Some recent material on DPRK markets

First, Kim Song Min  (김성민), founder of Free North Korea Radio, has posted another clandestine video of a North Korean market:

You can (probably) see the ten-minute video here.  It will not work in China.  Again, the market is surprisingly ordinary; lots of fish, potatoes, and greens.

I posted a similar video several weeks ago which you can see here.

Secondly, the March 24th WFP/FAO/UNICEF Rapid Food Security Assessment Mission (PDF of the report here) included some interesting information on the DPRK’s markets:

5.2. Markets
The mission had unprecedented access to markets in the country. All teams spent a considerable amount of time surveying different markets and their attributes. In DPRK there are three main types of markets where people can buy food and non-food stuff: 1) State Shops; 2) Farmer’s Markets; and 3) City Markets.

State Shops
State Shops are open seven days a week to provide families with such essentials like the soyabean sauce, soya-bean paste, and cooking oil at discounted prices. Each household is assigned to a state shop and, for certain commodities, is entitled to a monthly quota that is set by the Ministry of Commerce. Essential food items include: soya-bean sauce (50 grams /person/day); soya-bean paste (30 grams/person/day); and cooking oil (20 grams/person/day).

Whether households can purchase their full allocation primarily depends on availability. For example, many households reported that soya-bean oil has not been available since early February. Others households informed that meat is only available on special occasions like the New Year or the birthdays of Kim Il Sung (15 April) and Kim Jong Il (16 February).

The Peoples Neighborhood Unit (PNU) [Inminban] announces when new supplies arrive and informs the household’s entitlement. Payment is collected from the households and tokens are issued, specifying items and quantities that can be collected from the state shops.

The variety and quantity of food and non-food commodities varies from county to county. Some shops were observed to have other food items for sale, such as wild vegetables, biscuits and salt. The mission observed that State Shops in rural areas have fewer commodities available than those in large urban centres.

The mission also observed non-food commodities in State Shops, including: school supplies, clothes, shoes, blankets, kitchen utensils, ceramics, cigarettes, beer, rice wine, children’s toys, and single-band radios.

Farmers Markets
The Farmers’ Markets occur every ten days or three times each month. Sellers bring their food and non-food produce to the market where they pay a fee of KPW10 to secure a two meter stall for the day. The sale of cereals is officially prohibited. The mission did not observe any cereals being sold. The main food items observed in these markets were vegetables, potatoes, fruits, eggs, meat, fish, lentils and spices. Non-food items included basic farming equipment, woven baskets, school supplies, clothes, knitted socks and gloves.

Any exchange of cereals between households is privately done through barter trade or households who are PDS [Public Distribution System] dependants get cereals as gifts from relatives and friends in Cooperative farms. The surplus cereal produced by the farmers over and above their grain allocation for home consumption has to be sold to the State Food Procurement Agency.

Some sellers were able to quote terms of barter trade including: two kilograms of maize can be exchanged for one kilogram of rice; one kilogram of fish can be exchanged for one kilogram of rice; one-half kilogram of pork meat can be exchanged for one kilogram of rice; and five eggs can be exchanged for one kilogram of rice. Sellers were hesitant to quote rice and maize prices in KPW other than what is paid through the PDS.

Interestingly sellers only brought commodities in small quantities despite the fact that these markets happen only three times a month. The number of sellers out numbered the buyers but that could be the mission effect as people were wary of foreigners asking questions, particularly outside Pyongyang. The difference in the prices paid in these rural markets compared to Tongil market in Pyongyang was astounding. A bundle of spinach that cost KPW 20 in rural market was being sold for KPW 1000 in Tongil market—50 times more. However, this may not be of concern to ordinary citizens as Tongil caters more to the foreigners and DPRK elite.

City Markets
City markets are held daily in cities and often in the same structures as the farmers markets.Mission members did not observe any cereals for sale in the market. Food items observed were potato, vegetables, pulses, wild vegetables, seafood, fish, eggs, and meat, including rabbit, chicken, and duck. Non-food items included farming tools, baskets, brooms, school supplies, clothing, and other household items. Commodities were available in small quantities speaking to the size of the market. The prices in these markets were competitive and the produce similar to the farmers market.

Finally, Yonhap reports on the travels of a British Envoy to the DPRK:

Martin Uden, Britain’s ambassador to South Korea, said Sunday that a marketplace in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, appear to be stocked with large amounts of food, poultry and electronic products, despite the communist state’s ongoing search for food aid abroad.

Uden, who traveled to Pyongyang and Wonsan, a port on North Korea’s east coast, from March 11-14, said he witnessed plenty of chicken, fish and vegetables and an array of computer and camera accessories during his visit to the “Dong-il” market in the capital city.

In his travelogue that was written after his second trip to the North following the first in 2008 and sent to Yonhap News Agency, Uden said that overall, both the variety and quantity of food products available at the Pyongyang market were a “fair bit less” compared with three years ago, noting the absence of beef was especially noticeable.

“This March, I saw no beef and a tiny amount of pork. But plenty of chicken of all sizes, both cooked and uncooked, and some duck. Large amounts of good-looking fish and plentiful root vegetables,” the British diplomat said in his travelogue that offers insights into the daily life of ordinary Pyongyang citizens.

“In terms of the food aid that the DPRK is seeking at present, it’s worth remembering that even if this one market appeared reasonably stocked, it’s not possible to draw wider conclusions from that,” he said, using the abbreviation of the North’s official name.

Uden said he arrived in Pyongyang on the second Friday of March, the day of a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but was kept in the dark about the disaster until Monday, when the state news organizations carried reports about it. He called the incident an eloquent example of information control by the government.

“In (North Korea), you can only know what the state wants you to know,” he said.

The full text of his travelogue can be found here.


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