North Korean Food Rations Uncertain

According to the Manilla Times and ABS/CBN Interactive:

North Korea could suspend food rations for ordinary citizens in Pyongyang next month due to its worsening famine, a South Korean aid group warned Sunday.   The North Korean capital has had a better food supply than other areas despite a chronic food shortage since the 1990s.

“Pyongyang is no longer a safe zone in food supply,” Good Friends, a Seoul-based aid group for North Koreans, said in a newsletter.  “Food supply officials in Pyongyang say food rations lasted only 10 days in April and will be suspended for ordinary citizens beginning in May,” the group said. The aid group said big businesses and state organizations would remain unaffected.

United Nations food aid to North Korea ended late last year after Pyongyang said it no longer needed emergency shipments from the World Food Program (WFP) and other international humanitarian agencies. The North Korean government said it instead wants development assistance and a smaller operation with fewer international staff whose monitoring activities would be restricted.

WFP has proposed a downsized aid plan to feed 1.9 million people, largely women and children vulnerable to malnutrition and disease. It used to feed 6.5 million people.

North Korea’s grain production rose 5.3 percent to 4.54 million tons last year, still far short of its annual demand of six million tons, South Korea’s unification ministry report says.

According to the Daily NK:

North Korean sources have claimed that since April only some areas of Pyongyang have gotten food rations, and local areas were already cut off. North Korea recently relaunched rationing on the Workers’ Party Foundation Day (10/10/2005), yet from the beginning, the program did not meet its objectives, and furthermore, from this spring even Pyongyang is seeing a shortage of food.

Mr. Kim, who is a North Korean trader and now stays in Dandong, China said, “Officials working at the central agencies (the Party, Ministries, Court) in Pyongyang have gotten rations, but workers in general factories and small companies in local cities have to resolve their April and June food prooblmes themselves.”

Mr. Kim stated, “Despite a severe shortage of food, some wealthy, powerful people are persisting well. Yet other people who rely on the food rationing of factories mainly go to local areas to exchange goods for food.” It led to a situation where North Koreans have to withstand starvation by all means, before new potatoes come out.

At the same time, price of rice at the Jangmadang 9farmers markets) began rising.

Rice prices at the Shinuiju Jangmadang are:

1,000W ($0.33) to 1,200W($0.4) per 1kg
Yongcheon rice  is 1,200W 1kg
Chinese rice is 900W($0.3) to 930W($0.31) per 1kg

Corn is 300W($0.1) to 400W($0.133).

Shinuiju rice is a little more expensive than that of other cities, and its wheat flour is cheaper. It is because rice comes in from other cities, and Chinese wheat flour is distributed to each city via Shinuiju. 

Mr. Lee hinted that travel permits to China are issued “conditionally.” That is, after visitors to China come back to North Korea, they have to offer some food to the National Security Agency, and people with no relatives have a harder time getting passes.

Mr. Lee said, “As for me, it is better because I found my older brother. However, other people living in our village go out to rivers to dig for gold and to mountains to dig for edible plants.”

March and April, called the ‘Barley Period (Borigogae)’ are the months when food crunches are most severe. This is when the crops and edible plants (side dishes) harvested last year begin to run out. When edible plants run out, North Koreans prolong their lives by eating grass or wild plants. However, because of death by starvation in the mid 90’s, which resulted in massive foraging, even wild plants like bracken are not easily found now.  



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