Archive for the ‘Farmers markets’ Category

Effort to prevent outflow of capital into markets

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Since the start of the Kim Jong Un era, North Korea has introduced elements of a market economy while at the same time sought ways to mitigate the side effects caused by the rapid spread of market mechanisms.

The Choson Sinbo, mouthpiece of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (also known as Chongryon), revealed on February 22, 2015 that on a number of cooperative farms there are now ‘purchasing sites’ where farmers can barter and exchange goods. The newspaper explained that “[On the cooperative farms] there are purchasing sites where cheap goods are displayed and farmers are able to trade distributed agricultural products […] Through these sites it can prevent farmers from liquidating their produce and thus prevent funds from flowing into the market.”

Through the introduction of the ‘field responsibility system,’ North Korea has reportedly been able to meet demand for daily necessities at these purchasing sites. The state controls these sites in order to prevent farmers from taking goods to the jangmadang or the market when the surplus, which returns to the farmers, increases. Since entering the Kim Jong Un era, the field responsibility system has been expanded throughout the country and is credited with having contributed to North Korea’s increase in agricultural production. The system divides the bunjo (the small production teams on the cooperative farm) into family-sized units of 3 to 5 people and entrusts these units with the work of cultivating small-sized fields.

A system similar to the purchasing sites of the cooperative farms can be found in the city as well. The Choson Sinbo revealed that “[North Korean factories] are purchasing items like food and basic commodities produced in the country and are distributing them to workers as a portion of their wages.” In the years following Kim Jong Un’s rise to power, wages increased exponentially due to the introduction of incentives and the increase in the autonomy of factories and businesses. But because the threat of inflation becomes significant if those increased wages are paid entirely in cash, it is reported that businesses pay a part of workers’ wages in goods and commodities.

The Choson Sinbo added that the ‘Hwanggumbol Shop,’ a convenience store that has been appearing here and there in Pyongyang since December of last year, is also an effort by the state to prevent the rapid expansion of the market. The newspaper explained that the state-operated store focuses on supplying “cheaper prices than the market” and that the goal of the store is to guarantee “the circulation of money through state-operated stores.”

State-operated stores are an attempt to prevent the market from taking a central place in the circulation of money. This is accomplished by having state-run stores supply goods at a lower price than the market and thereby attract consumers. Different from the past, the current regime intends to utilize the market rather than restrict it. It is believed that North Korea will try to keep the market in a condition in which it can be suitably managed.


Kim Jong-un’s directions on improving economic management

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

High ranking North Korean officials have relayed that, since last year, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has on several occasions provided direction on improvements for economic management methods and that some new measures are being implemented on an experimental basis.

In a May 10, 2013 interview with the Choson Sinbo, North Korean Cabinet secretariat Kim Ki Chol and National Planning Committee director Ri Yong Min relayed that “Kim Jung Un spoke on several occasions, both this year and last, about the time to fix economic management practices and delegated related responsibilities to students and laborers.” The officials added, “We are holding rounds of consultation and discussion together with research institutes and representatives of several economic sectors.”

The officials further stated that “Out of these consultations have emerged a number of promising economic proposals which we are putting into practice on an experimental basis. In the case that they show positive results, we plan to introduce them across the country. Most remain in the research stage.” These remarks indicate that North Korea is embarking on some kind of economic reform measures.

These statements seem to confirm that North Korea’s economic measures are being driven by the direct orders of Kim Jung Un, such as the ‘June 28 Measure’ (i.e., policy on agriculture). They also suggest that once measures clear the testing stage, they will be implemented on a national scale.

They also explained that while additional new economic control measures are being adopted, these measures at the same time deal with issues related to production planning, price adjustment, and currency circulation. They added that new laws would have to be created, and explained that measures were being expanded that allow for the expansion of authority in the interest of reinvigorating production at factories and industrial sites.

Mention of price adjustment and currency circulation suggests that North Korea’s new economic reforms may not be limited to farms, factories, and industrial sites; rather, it hints at the possibility that North Korea will embark on much larger scale reform extending to the financial sector.

They explained that some farms which carried out the national plan last year implemented land distribution, and contributed to the right of factories and industrial sites to sell and trade freely. They added that such steps reflected the demands of workers.

The officials were reserved in their comments in regard to the timing of any future announcements related to North Korean economic measures: “If successes are consistent we can advance the reforms on a wide scale; but, for now, we need to keep an eye on progress.”

The officials added that they were being retrained in management at the University of the People’s Economy and taking classes about farm management and management at Kim Bo Hyun College.

North Korea emphasized the construction of an economic powerhouse at the beginning of May, and it is currently heating up in the fields of industry and farming by encouraging an increase in production. In relation to this, the Korean Workers’ Party is mobilizing media sources including the Rodong Sinmun, the Korean Central News Agency, and Korean Central Broadcasting.

Particularly, these media sources are emphasizing that obtaining a nuclear deterrent is the greatest asset on the road to economic construction. They are also claiming that increase in production is one means for the achievement of the new economic line of pursuing simultaneously economic construction and building of a nuclear force.

Now that the annual US-ROK joint unit tactical military field training drills, i.e., ‘Foal Eagle’, have concluded (as of April 30) and tensions on the Korean peninsula have subsided somewhat, North Korea’s new economic line is being assessed as one which is aimed at enhancing the economic livelihoods of North Koreans.


North Korean markets heavily filled with Chinese products and currency

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

After North Korea’s currency revaluation in 2009, North Korean currency is still unstable and North Korean markets near the DPRK-China border are reportedly filled with Chinese merchandise, with transactions being conducted mainly in Chinese yuan.

An online newspaper, the Daily NK, reported that markets in the city of Hyesan (Ryanggang Province) and surrounding areas are using Chinese yuan as the primary currency for transactions rather than local North Korean won.  Rice prices are standard indicators of inflation in North Korea and even rice was reported to be exchanged in yuan.  As the monetary value of domestic currency continues to fall, North Korea is experiencing hyperinflation and North Koreans are showing a preference for the more stable Chinese yuan over won.

With an exception of rice, vegetables, and seafood, manufactured goods including confectioneries, the daily necessities for sale in these markets are mostly from China.  As well, some South Korean items such as instant noodles, Choco Pies, and butane gas are sold openly in the markets.

Border areas have a higher rate of Chinese yuan usage than inland areas, as for years traders have been buying Chinese goods with Chinese yuan to sell in the domestic markets.  However, with the unstable domestic currency, more and more North Koreans have been using Chinese yuan over the last three years.  Some report goods bought with North Korean won must be converted to the CNY exchange rate.

As of mid-April, the exchange rate of 100 CNY to KPW was 130,000. However, Pyongsong and Pyongyang cities used mainly US dollars and local won in equal rates.

A video recording obtained by the Daily NK unveiled the landscape of the marketplace and nearby alley markets of  Hyesan and surrounding areas.  Items for sale include jackets, mufflers, gloves, coats and other winter clothing as well as cosmetics, perfumes, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other daily goods. Transactions were being made in Chinese yuan.

North Korean authorities are waging a crackdown against the use of the yuan in the markets but merchants continue to use yuan in secret.

The high number of Chinese goods in North Korean markets can be attributed to the failed production system of the people’s economy of North Korea, which began to tumble in the late 1990s. As the regime began to invest excessively in its military sector, production in the manufacturing sector declined.

Although North Korean products appear in the markets, most people prefer Chinese goods due to their better quality.

A recent article in the official state economics journal of North Korea, Kyongje Yongu (Journal of Economic Research), criticized the “trade companies for focusing on only one or two countries,” expressing concerns that, “the whole nation may experience political and economic pressure from trade companies that restrict foreign trade to only one country.”

Kim Jong Un has also expressed official disapproval against “import syndrome” of the people and regarded it as an obstacle hindering the development of North Korea’s light industry.

Although no specific country was named, it is believed that China makes up over 80 percent of North Korea’s total foreign trade. North Korea continues to show vigilance against its rising dependence on China.


Market expansion: Sinuiju

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

For years the center of commercial life in Sinuiju has been the Chaeha-dong Market (채하시장). It has seen consistent growth since 2002:


Google Earth image date: 2002-4-29


Google Earth image date: 2004-1-27 (note the street trading around the market)


Google Earth image date: 2005-1-29


Google Earth image date: 2009-10-11

The market pretty much remained this size until 2011-4-19, the last day that satellite imagery records this structure.

On the next available image, dated 2012-10-30, we can see the market has been destroyed. It appears that the space is being transformed into a new park, much like we have seen being built in different parts of Pyongyang over the last year.


However, the story is not as sad as the story of the Phyongsong Market (formerly the country’s largest). A new market has been built on the outskirts of the city to replace the Chaeha Market:




This new market is over twice the size of the old Chaeha Market. Its dimensions are approximately 183m x 60m. We only have one satellite image of this market, and it is closed.  It is unclear how busy it is on market day (approximately every ten days) or how much of the area around the market and road leading to the market is filled with additional vendors.

The DPRK has a mixed relationship with these markets.  On the one hand they are a clear rebuke of the state’s old socialist ideology and the official socialist retail distribution system.  To date no North Korean leader has ever publicly visited a market as part of an inspection or guidance tour.  The closest we have seen was when Choe Yong-rim visited the Pyongyang Underground Shop (under Kim Il-sung Square) on 2011-11-17.

On the other hand, however, many state-owned and August 3 factories and companies now sell directly through these markets rather than official shops and distribution channels (which allows them to stockpile cash rather than relying on account transfers with the central bank). Additionally these markets are integrated into the public finance system.  The state charges a fee for vending slots in these markets and party inspectors regularly patrol them to enforce (imperfectly) various dictates.

It would be interesting to know if this market was built before or after Kim Jong il died (2011-12-17). This would be a powerful signal of the intentions of Kim Jong-un’s economic team. From the available public imagery, however, it is not possible to say at this point.


Stall-sharing returns to Hyesan

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The Hyesan Market (L) and a street market (R).

According to the Daily NK:

The authorities in Hyesan have embarked on an experiment that permits multiple traders to utilize each stall in the city jangmadang (market).

A source from the Yankang Province city told Daily NK on the 30th, “Hyesan Municipal People’s Committee has been struggling for a while to decide what to do with all these traders in the streets outside the market. So, they’ve decided to try and co-opt them by restarting stall-sharing arrangements. Any trader, even ones who used to trade in the streets, can now operate inside the market as long as they are ready to pay.”

“The traders rotate six days a week, and on Sundays the original stallholder gets to decide who trades there,” the source went on.

However, many of the original stallholders are reportedly angry at the move, according to the source, with many asking why they are being stopped from trading for almost half the week.

“But,” she said, “the Market Management Office is having none of it, so they have little choice but to oblige.”

The idea of stall-sharing has been tried before in Hyesan, but with little success. “Just last year they ordered the same thing to happen,” the source recalled, “but it wasn’t long before things went back to normal.”

That being said, she went on, “Now because the order has come from the Upper (Central Party), they are really trying to do it.”

Defectors from the city and others with experience of trading directly in the market say the measure has far more to do with controlling traders working illegally on the city streets than improving the efficiency of the market itself. In fact, they say the measure is likely to have a deleterious effect on market operations.

Seo Ok Ran, a 42-year old defector now living in the Dongdaemun area of Seoul pointed out, “Last year when they did this I had a hard time finding the right stallholders for the items I needed. At the end of the day, it just reduces trade.”

It is unclear whether the new rules are being applied nationwide, or are restricted to the area under the remit of Hyesan Municipal People’s Committee.

Read the full story here:
Stall-Sharing Returns to Hyesan
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin


Chongjin’s “Mansudae-style” apartments

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Pictured above (Google Earth): Pohang District, Chongjin (in red)

UPDATE 1 (2012-8-23): The Daily NK, which has been the only organization to cover the housing construction in Chongjin (see original post below), reports on the classic problem of political allocation of resources (in this case housing) in socialist economies. According to the article:

A source from Chongjin told Daily NK yesterday, “This rumor started going around that the apartments they are building would first go to decorated soldiers, veterans and discharged military officers, and then the rest would be distributed to ordinary people. As soon as that happened, a group of 40 or more people, many of whom had already seen their former homes demolished and thought they had priority on the housing list, got really angry.”

“The crowd went repeatedly to both the local administrative office and the district people’s committee to demand that a list of those assigned homes be made public,” he added.

During the protests, the source said, “Those who found they were not on the list warned that they would not stand idly by if their new homes were stolen from them. They didn’t back down from the guys from the Ministry of People’s Safety either, not for more than 30 minutes.”

The head of the local administrative office vacated his post due to the trouble and hasn’t been seen since, something that has made the aggrieved individuals even angrier. Upper level cadres are also refusing to meet them, and lower level figures are trying to wash their hands of the whole affair, saying that the list of those assigned apartments can no longer be changed. No longer thinking that the problem can be solved at the district level, the group has sent a letter to the provincial authorities outlining their grievances.

“Their point is that the authorities said that only a small number of the apartments would go to those people (decorated soldiers, veterans and discharged military officers), while most of them were supposed to go to ordinary families,” the source explained.

The source also explained the backdrop, saying that thousands of homes in the Namgang and Pohang areas of the Pohang district of the city have been destroyed since last June, and that the displaced residents from those homes have all been living with relatives and friends while waiting for the chance to move into what they thought were to be their new dwellings.

The problem is not over yet, either. According to the source, “It also looks like some facilities like shops and restaurants that were not on the original plans for an area around the amusement park are also being built, which will reduce the volume of housing available. Who can say how people from that area who’ve lost their homes will object if they lose out.”

This article is interesting to me because it answers a couple of questions I have had for some time: “What happens to families displaced by urban construction projects?” [Answer: for the most part, they go live with family members until replacement housing is allocated] and “How is new housing allocated if not through de-facto sales?” [Answer: Ideally through an objective and enforceable list based on “need”. However, this process is often corrupted. See here, here and here].

ORIGINAL POST (2012-8-14): According to the Daily NK:

It has been confirmed that affluent local wholesale traders have been co-opted to support the construction of apartment buildings in Chongjin, North Hamkyung Province.

A Chongjin source told Daily NK yesterday, “The construction of high-rise apartment buildings in the Pohang district of the city is being done by enterprises and ‘shock troops’, but there are also local go-betweens at the forefront connecting affluent traders from the region with the construction teams so that the latter can get materials as needed.”

The source went on, “It seems that most of the province’s rich people have gathered here. You can tell that there are people with genuine power involved in the construction by how fast the buildings are going up now.”

Since last May, Chongjin has been working to follow in the footsteps of the Mansudae area of Pyongyang by constructing apartments for 10,000 households, including 2,000 in the Pohang district. The project is said to be part of North Hamkyung Province Party Secretary Oh Soo Yong’s determined effort to show loyalty to the regime of Kim Jong Eun. However, the Party and state lacks the power to follow through on the plans.

The situation is not rare. Rich people and brokers acting as go-betweens are actively involved in all types of construction projects in North Korea today. This was even the case when Pyongyang planned the building of 100,000 apartments in time for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung earlier this year. Indeed, all North Koreans know that “without the go-betweens this country’s economy would seize up.”

Usually, the North Korean authorities get factory enterprises and units of ‘shock troops’ to do the state’s construction and set in place plans to secure the necessary cement, steel and other materials, but this part very rarely goes according to plan.

For one thing, factories need to be bribed if the construction sites want to get their materials delivered on time, so the middlemen have a close relationship with the factories. Meanwhile, the rich people who finance the construction later receive a share of the finished apartments in return.

Currently in Chongjin, a home on the 3rd or 4th floor of such an apartment costs about $5,000. A rich man investing $7,000 dollars in the construction of a building can expect to make about $3,000 in profit. Other floors cost $3,000-$4,000 at current rates. However, in Pyongyang prices are much higher, with apartments on the 3rd or 4th floor trading for as much as $10,000 dollars.

The source said, “There are nicely dressed men striding around the construction site checking on progress, and these are the rich folk.”

The publicly available satellite imagery of Chongjin is too old to show recent construction, and since I have no budget, staff, or connections to people who have the ability to get new satellite imagery, I cannot show you any recent pictures.

Despite the lack of physical evidence, however, I have good reason to believe that new residential construction is underway in Chongjin.  This is because I do have publicly-available imagery of other DPRK cities and towns which are being “upgraded” with new apartment blocks. Recently I wrote about construction in Rason. I will post imagery of additional towns and cities if I get the time.

Read the Daily NK story here:
Rich Traders Invest in Chongjin Construction
Daily NK
Choi Song Min


DPRK won’s declining value in 2012

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Chris Green writes in the Daily NK:

The value of the North Korean currency against the Chinese Yuan has declined markedly since the beginning of this year, information from inside sources has revealed.

By the beginning of June, 100RMB was trading in Musan, North Hamkyung Province for 80,000 North Korean Won, marking a 25% reduction in value since January, when 100RMB was worth around 60,000 Won.

A source from the area told Daily NK on the 25th, “The exchange rate changes even over the course of a day, but yesterday it was in the 800’s [1RMB=800 North Korean Won]. People are saying that our money is turning to scrap paper.”

“Because of this, prices in the jangmadang [market] are following suit,” the source went on. “However, supplies are still massively insufficient, and everything is gone from stalls by the end of the day.”

According to statistics published regularly by Daily NK, at this time last year 100RMB was trading for between 43,000 and 45,000 North Korean Won (regional variations apply). This means that the price has now almost doubled in just 12 months.

Looking at the rises in more detail, by October 2011 the price of 100RMB had reached 50,000 Won, mid-November saw it hit 58,000 Won, and by mid December it had reached 60,000 Won. Fast forwarding to April 2012 and it was 67,000 Won, and by mid May 74,000 Won.
Notably, almost the only products in the jangmadang that are now traded in local currency are food and a few other very low-priced items; everything else, from clothing to electronics, is bought and sold in foreign currency.

Read the full story here:
The Inexorably Rising RMB Exchange
Daily NK
Chris Green


Consumer culture changing DPRK

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Arirang News has posted a video on the changes in consumer culture in the DPRK. It highlights just how much things have changed since the days of Kim Il-sung:


Farming Regions in State of Tension

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

This year, the North Korean authorities are once again emphasizing the need to strive for greater food production as the farming season begins, launching the annual 40-day total farm mobilization period with the words “Let’s mobilize the whole party, the whole nation and all the people to reach the grain production targets.”

Rodong Shinmun published editorials on the subject on both the 11th and again on the 12th, reflecting the emphasis being optimistically placed on solving food security issues in 2012. Kim Jong Eun also emphasized the same in his major statements on the 6th and 27th of last month, understandably so given that farm productivity has the potential to play such a decisive role in stabilizing the first full winter of his rule.

Inside sources say that the mobilization atmosphere is unusually intense this year in farming villages. Cadres and people alike are feeling the strain of Kim Jong Eun’s first season in charge, with the assumption being that this year could see severe punishments meted out for any wrongdoing.

A South Hamkyung Province explained to Daily NK yesterday, “The whole nation is out there supporting the farms, including enterprises affiliated with state agencies, upper middle school and college students and military bases. People are not allowed to be at home or in the streets. Restaurants are not open either. Everybody is out on the farms. It’s just like martial law, really brutal.”

“5 or 6 safety agents have set up a desk in the street and are stopping people passing by, confiscating their identifications and the bikes they are on and sending them to nearby farms,” he went on. “People can only pass if they have a confirmation slip from a cooperative farm management committee.”

“The markets are only allowed to open from 5PM to 8PM after farm work is done for the day, so excluding preparation and organizing time, there is only an hour or so that the market is open. Buyers and sellers are all super busy,” he added.

During the 40-day total mobilization period, school classes are halted and students sent off to farms for forty days carrying their food and bedding. Laborers, workers in administrative organs and members of the Union of Democratic Women all commute from home to local collective farms until the planting and seeding is done.

North Korea has had the policy in place since 2006. Prior to that, students still had to farm every day, but full-time workers and members of the Union of Democratic Women went out just twice or three times a month.

In 2006, five provincial Party cadres from North Hamkyung Province were caught enjoying a spa during the period. They were summarily kicked out of the Party and sent into internal exile with their families.

“Until last year we were able to get confirmation of attendance from farm management committee cadres by giving a bribe, but with this year being the first under Kim Jong Eun, those tricks are unlikely to work,” the source concluded.

Read full story here:

Farming Regions in State of Tension
Daily NK
Choi Song Min


Army Founding Day a source of stress

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

According tot he Daily NK:

The North Korean authorities have called on the people to provide supplies for care packages to be given to military units on People’s Army Foundation Day, which falls today. It is not a new burden, but is relatively larger this year, according to a source.

The source from Chongjin in North Hamkyung Province told the Daily NK yesterday, “The people feel seriously burdened by the project going on nationwide to gather support supplies ahead of the military holiday. Each household is required to offer up towels, soap, toothpaste, socks and underwear.”

“Usually they collect around 1,000 won from each family, but this year they told us to give 10,000 won,” the source went on. “Since even providing food for the family is not easy, many people are playing a waiting game on this.”

The source explained that societal organizations (the Union of Democratic Women, General Federation of Korean Trade Unions etc) have also been gathering care packages for delivery to local military units by ‘People’s Delegations’ consisting of municipal and county Party cadres.

“Middle school classes are also suspended while students prepare and perform ‘People’s Army Comfort Concerts’ at art centers and in military camps, and the Union of Democratic Women are preparing art performances,” she added.

Problematically, the various April holidays also mean that markets are closed more often than normal, and this is driving down household incomes.

For the Day of the Sun, the markets were closed from the 14th through the 17th. The markets are also closed today for Army Foundation Day today. Moreover, they were also closed on the day Kim Jong Eun was elevated to 1st Secretary and the day of the mass rally organized to denounce the Lee Myung Bak administration, to name but two.

As such, the source concluded, “April is a hectic month. Aside from the fact that the people are exhausted because of the pressure from the authorities their income has dropped by around half so many will likely end up in debt.”

Read the full story here:
Army Founding Day a Source of Stress
Daily NK
Choi Song Min