The recent spike in rice and corn prices is making things even harder for ordinary North Koreans

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A ‘grasshopper market’, or unofficial market, in a village near Pyongyang. (Chinese blogger Lóng Wǔ*Láng Zhī Wěn)

A recent spike in the price of staples such as rice and corn in North Korean markets is making things even harder for ordinary people in the country.

A source from Yanggang province told Daily NK on Wednesday that the price of rice in markets in Hyesan city has increased since the beginning of last month.

Moreover, since June 30, the price of a kilogram of rice has exceeded 6,000 KPW, leaving more North Koreans without access to grain and stoking public anxiety, the source said.

He also reported that rising food prices have made things even harder for street vendors, who have already been hit hard when North Korean authorities closed national borders and stepped up a crackdown on vendors.

According to the source, a resident of Hyesan who supports herself by selling rice cakes on the street has had few sales since June. Crackdowns by the Ministry of Social Security prevented her from selling rice cakes, further indebting her.

Without any income, the woman cannot even pay the interest on the loans she took out to finance her business. If she misses a second deadline to make her interest payments, the interest will skyrocket and her credit will crash, leaving her unable to borrow more money, he explained.

In addition to her difficult situation, food prices in the market continue to rise and the woman is now afraid of becoming completely destitute.

“Even though the ‘barley hump’ has passed, food prices continue to rise. The mood of the population is so gloomy that some fear that people will resort to cannibalism if things continue like this. Many people are so starving due to high food prices that they can’t even go to work,” the source said.

Although many North Koreans are complaining about hardship caused by rising food prices, the government has taken no significant steps to remedy the situation.

In March and April, the government took measures such as providing food at below market prices or setting price caps on food products. Now, however, the government is doing nothing, leading some to wonder if those responsible just haven’t given up on trying to make things better.

“The government appears to have shied away from taking action in areas related to the livelihoods of the public, including raising exchange rates and market prices,” the source said, adding, “Why would it be focused about security and the police to keep the population under control?”

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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