DPRK food prices stable

The Daily NK offers some recent food price data from the DPRK:

A defector named Kim, who keeps in touch with his family in the North, reported Monday in a telephone conversation with Daily NK, “The current food prices remain stable, according to sources from Hoiryeong and Pyongyang.”

Mr. Kim explained, “Rice sells in the Hoiryeong jangmadang at between 1,600 and 1,800won, around 200 won lower than before. Other grains and foods have fallen too. Pork sells for 2,800 to 3,000 won per kilogram and corn for 600 won per kilogram. An egg sells for 350 to 500.”

He added that, “Pork sold for about 5,000 won around lunar New Year’s Day and now it sells at half the price. Egg prices have risen a bit; they used to sell for 250 to 350 won. In Pyongyang, the price of rice, which was 2,200 won per kilogram in mid-January, is 1,700 won now. Corn per kilogram fell from 900 won to 750 won.”

He accounted for the lower food prices: In January, to greet the 60th anniversary of the friendship between North Korea and China, Chinese rice came in through Nampo port, so rice prices fell and provision of food increased. Since last year, the authorities have been able to deliver provisions to workers in a few major cities like Shinuiju.

He also relayed news that, “In February, a month’s provisions, 14 kilograms, were delivered to workers and their dependents; corn was provided through food distribution offices.”

Mr. Kim predicted that the situation will be at its worst in May and June of this year, although the food situation is comparatively much better than last year. No matter how good the last harvest was, though, it is not so significant for those who have to buy their food in the jangmadang.”

“Since 1995, food prices have always soared in May and June, the spring shortage season. After the spring this year they will soar again.”

In March or April, food in stock runs out and potatoes, barley, and other vegetables are not harvested until June. Therefore, rising food prices are a chronic spring phenomenon.

Pyongyang must feel reasonably confident, or they want us to think they feel reasonably confident, about current and anticipated food stocks.  As reported last week, the DPRK has requested that all foreign NGOs and aid agencies responsible for distributing food aid to cease operations and head home.

Mr. Kim does offer some good news from North Korea’s markets (Jangmadang).

For some time we have heard news that the North Korean government is attempting to turn the clock back on local markets by regulating who may work in them (older women), when they may openwhat they may sell, and at what price.  All of these restrictions are supposedly part of a plan to break them down and reorient the population towards receiving goods from state-owned shops and the Public Distribution System.  These measures could be part of the “2012 Kangsong Taeguk” plans, or they might simply be part of a longer-term political strategy.

It is rumored that these kinds of regulations have lead to violent backlashes because the socialist economy is not capable of supporting the population, and (paradoxically) markets are considered the social “safety net”.  As a result, these market regulations are often ignored or “bypassed” by local officials and then quietly rescinded.  Mr. Kim offers anecdotal evidence that regulation of the markets has still proven unsuccessful:

“Decrees to close the jangmadang were posted at the entrances but in January they were all removed and the jangmadang operated as usual.”

Let’s hope that this is the fate of more recent regulations as well.

Read more below:
Previous posts on food.

Previous posts on North Korea’s markets.

Food Prices in North Korean Markets Stabilize
Daily NK
Yoo Gwan Hee


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