What caused the DPRK’s spring ’08 food price increases?

North Korea’s agricultural and food markets suffer from a number of permanent constraints that prevent their efficient operation.  Rail transport is slow and/or unreliable, internal travel restrictions for “ordinary” merchants, and poor road conditions limit the distance food can travel before it goes bad.  Restrictions on communications and lack of a futures market makes it difficult to know how much food is available in each location, or what is expected to be available in each location.  This leads to hoarding, volatile prices, and a mismatch between local supply and demand.  Compounding these basic problems is a poor business environment characterized by collective farming practices, corruption, bribery, poor property rights protection, poor contract enforcement, and ex-post expropriation of profits.  Given these constraints, it is amazing agricultural and food markets work at all. 

In addition to these factors, the DPRK’s food markets suffered a number of adverse supply shocks this year from flooding, China’s restrictions on food exports, and a decrease in expected food aid from China, South Korea, and the US (See the effects on prices in this chart by Noland/Haggard/Weeks here). The arrival of food aid has since brought some of these prices down.

This week, the Daily NK reports on two other causes of price increases in the DPRK: Anti-corruption campaigns and restrictions on farming private plots.

Anti Corruption campaigns (more here and here)

He reported that “From March to late April, for almost 40 days, inspections were undertaken nationally. In Hwanghae Province, the inspection groups under the Central Court came down and confiscated food which the cadres in farms had embezzled. In some cases, they confiscated 500-1000kg of rice and grains from cadres’ households by searching with metal sticks in their backyard.”

The Director of the Ministry of Administration of the Chosun (North Korea) Workers’ Party Jang Sung Taek and his inspection group went to Shinuiju and inspected persons in charge of trading.

No. 112 Land System

The No. 112 land system operates whereby the authorities offer a certain width of fallow lands, which are different by grade of food distribution amount, to national public servants and clerical workers, given in order to make them solve their food problem by farming instead of relying on distribution. Ishimaru explained that “However, the new Kim Young Il cabinet abrogated this system and banned them from planting seeds on those fields.” 

Read the full story here:
Intensive Inspections in March and April a Direct Reason for Rise in Food Prices
Daily NK 
Kim So Yeol


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