North Korean rice prices continue to rise despite potato, wheat and barley harvest

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an inspection of the Samjiyon Potato Farina production plant in Samjiyon County, Yanggang Province in October 2018. (Rodong Sinmun)

Although North Korea is currently harvesting potatoes, wheat, barley and other alternatives to rice, the price of rice continues to rise in the country’s markets. In fact, the price of rice in mid-July was more than 40% higher than at the same time over the past two years.

According to Daily NK’s regular market price survey in North Korea, one kilogram of rice cost 5,720 KPW in Pyongyang, 5,820 KPW in Sinuiju and 6,200 KPW in Hyesan as of July 10.

Prices have increased by 200 KPW to 400 KPW per region over the past fortnight. On June 26, a kilo of rice cost 5,500 KPW in Pyongyang, 5,600 KPW in Sinuiju and 5,800 KPW in Hyesan.

In particular, one kilogram of rice crossed the KPW 6,000 line in Hyesan, Yanggang Province.

In June and July last year, the price of rice in Hyesan temporarily exceeded 7,000 KPW as some towns in the province were ordered into repeated shutdowns due to suspected COVID-19 cases.

However, the price of rice remained relatively stable in the range of 4,000 KPW to 5,000 KPW in other areas such as Pyongyang and Sinuiju, which were not subject to lockdowns at the time.

In short, the price of rice has not crossed the 6,000 KPW line in Hyesan, Pyongyang and Sinuiju as it has this year.

Indeed, Daily NK’s analysis of the market price of rice in mid-July over the past three years – based on accumulated North Korean market price data – revealed that this year marked a peak in price of rice.

On July 12 last year, a kilogram of rice cost 4,000 KPW in Pyongyang, 4,200 KPW in Sinuiju and 5,500 KPW in Hyesan.

Even on July 19, 2020, six months after North Korea closed its border with China, a kilo of rice cost 4,000 KPW in Pyongyang, 4,010 KPW in Sinuiju and 4,300 KPW in Hyesan.

Cho Chung-hui, the head of South Korean non-governmental organization Good Farmers and an expert on North Korean agriculture, told Daily NK that the price of grains like rice and corn usually drops at the beginning and in mid-July thanks to the potato. , wheat and barley harvest, which starts from June.

“The fact that grain prices continued to climb in July, unlike in previous years, could indicate poor harvests of potatoes, wheat and barley,” he said.

That is, although grain prices tended to fall in the summer, with demand for rice and maize declining as alternative commodities came to market, potato harvests, wheat and barley seem to have been so bad that they had a negligible impact on the rice. and corn prices.

Cho explained that the travel bans imposed by North Korea have prevented wheat, barley and other crops harvested inside the country from reaching other regions, causing grain prices to rise. Hyesan, Hoeryong, Onsong and other areas along the China-North Korea border.

“Because potatoes and wheat are harvested late in the north[ern part of the country], alternative commodities produced in inland regions need to flow to other regions,” Cho said. “But with travel hampered by COVID-19, this has led to higher grain prices in border towns.”

If grain prices continue to rise, North Koreans could suffer from worsening food shortages, a source inside the country told Daily NK.

“The price of rice and maize goes up 100 KPW or 200 KPW every week,” she said. “The number of people who cannot eat one meal a day due to the relentless increase in grain prices has increased significantly.”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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