North Korean Holidays Drive Prices Up in Local Markets

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Cyclists pass along a road in Chongjin, North Korea, Nov. 19, 2017.
Cyclists pass along a road in Chongjin, North Korea, Nov. 19, 2017.

The price of food products sold at local markets in North Korea has risen in recent weeks as rice, corn, and fruit are being requisitioned for gifts made to children and ruling party executives during state-ordered holiday celebrations, North Korean sources say.

North Korean citizens are now suffering because the scarcity of standard foodstuffs has driven costs up, a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service this week.

“Despite tougher international sanctions against North Korea, prices were comparatively stable through January,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.  

“But we began to see evidence of reduced supply at local markets when the prices started to climb earlier this month,” he said.

Rice and corn are now especially scarce since these are used to make candy and other snacks for distribution in the schools on the Feb. 16 birthday of former national leader Kim Jong Il, called the Day of the Shining Star, the source said.

Celebrations of the Lunar New Year and the birthday last month of national leader Kim Jong Un have created additional demand, he said.

“At the end of January, rice was priced at 4,500 North Korean won [U.S. $0.56] per kilogram, but has now risen to 5,300 North Korean won [U.S. $0.66],” he said, adding that the cost of corn has risen over the last month at a similar rate.

“Since the price of rice is now so high, residents are rushing to buy flour, as it is cheaper,” he said. “So we are now seeing shortages of flour as well.”

“People are having trouble getting ready for the holidays,” he said.

Fruit is typically a popular item in the winter at local markets, but is now also hard to find, another source in North Hamgyong told RFA.

“Fruit is mostly brought in from China, but all imported fruit is now being sent directly to [the capital] Pyongyang to be distributed to executives on the Day of the Shining Star,” the source said.

“Apples used to be priced at 4,300 North Korean won [U.S. $0.53] per kilogram, and pears were priced at 3,000 North Korean won [U.S. $0.37], but the prices have now risen to 5,200 North Korean won [U.S. $0.65] and 4,000 North Korean won [U.S. $0.50],” he said.

“People can’t even prepare fruit for their memorial service tables for this Lunar New Year’s Day because of gifts being made to executives,” he said.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.





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