Market rice prices in North Korea held steady throughout the “farming hardship period” in April and May; however, prices have recently started to rise. In towns near the border, including those in the provinces of Yangkang and North Hamkyung, rice has reached 6,000 KPW per kilo, inside sources report.
“From the end of last week, the cost of rice began to rise, reaching 6,000 KPW,” a source in North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK on the 25th. “All five of the markets in Hyesan, including Yunbong, Masan and Hyesan, have seen the same sudden leap.”
“People are used to small fluctuations in rice prices, but they don’t often see a quick 1,000 KPW increase,” she went on.
A source in Yangkang Province confirmed the increase. “Just a few days ago, rice was 5,000 KPW, so imagine my surprise when I went to buy it yesterday,” she said. “It seems that even the sellers don’t know why it happened.”
“They don’t need to be sure why prices have risen; simply, if one raises the price of her rice, the rest will follow suit,” she added.
The source went on to say that she examined conditions across the city on Daily NK’s behalf, checking markets in areas that could have been in a different condition. “Because miners are receiving their rations, I thought maybe prices around mines would be stabler,” she reported, “but in Masan, one of those areas, it was also 6,000 KPW.”
Last month, rice cost 4,300 KPW in Pyongyang, 4,500 KPW in Sinuiji and 5,050 KPW in Hyesan. Moreover, prices actually went down last week, to 4,250 KPW, 4,380 KPW and 4,800 KPW respectively. But now they have increased by 1,000 KPW within a week.
Daily NK sources speculate that the reason for the sharp increase is due to reduced distribution of rice and below-average yield of early new potatoes. Of course, April and May are called the “farming hardship period” for a reason; in other words, supply-side limitations could simply be filtering down to the retail market.
According to the source, local people are concerned that prices could rise to 7,000 KPW, the high point reached during the mourning period for Kim Jong Il at the start of 2012. However, others are less worried, saying, “Since fall is right in front of us, prices won’t rise any more.”
Although rice prices usually vary in accordance with fluctuations in currency exchange rates, recent ups and downs have not followed this pattern. Despite the fact that the North Korean Won is currently 30 KPW stronger per Chinese Yuan higher than it was last month, rice prices have sharply increased.
“In fifteen days, people will harvest barley and have corn that was planted earlier. So rice prices won’t go up any more,” the source in Yangkang Province said. However, the source in North Hamkyung Province voiced the concern that “flooding from the monsoon may influence yields of barley, corn and other grains.”
Analyzing the situation, Kwon Tae Jin of GS&J Institute said, “Rice is never abundant in Hyesan; it must have been affected by drought in eastern parts of China. Travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of diseases may have contributed to the increase as well.”
“Once the corn is harvested in August, prices will stabilize for a while. But a poor yield overall could cause them to start rising later,” he predicted.