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N. Korean grain prices rise to same level as before last year’s harvest

Grain prices in North Korean markets have climbed across the board following the exhaustion of food stocks at state-run grain shops.

According to Daily NK’s regular survey of market prices in North Korea, a kilogram of rice cost KPW 5,200 in a particular market in Pyongyang as of Mar. 17, a 6.1% increase from the last survey two weeks earlier on Mar. 4, when it cost KPW 4,900.

Rice prices rose by similar increments elsewhere. At a particular market in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, a kilogram of rice cost KPW 5,300 as of Mar. 17, a 6% increase from the previous survey two weeks earlier.

The rice price climbed the most in Hyesan, Yanggang Province. At one market in Hyesan, a kilogram of rice cost KPW 5,700, 7.5% higher than it did in the previous survey.

Corn prices also skyrocket

A kilogram of corn in a market in Sinuiju cost KPW 2,800 as of Mar. 17, 7.7% higher than it cost on March 4. The price of corn rose by a similar amount in Pyongyang.

However, the corn price held steady in Hyesan at KPW 3,000 a kilogram. Though the price stayed the same, corn was still more expensive than in Pyongyang or Sinuiju.

The market price of grain in North Korea is higher than it has been since last September, just before the full-scale start of the rice harvest.

In particular, grain prices in March climbed faster this year than in the same month over the last five years.

In March 2020, 2021 and last year, grain prices held steady or climbed slightly in the early or middle part of the month. In March 2022, prices rose in the middle of the month, but rice prices increased only 2% and corn prices 3.4% at most, much slower climbs than this year.

Market grain prices bottomed in early December last year, right after the completion of the harvest. Prices began climbing gradually from mid-December.

Déjà vu

Although grain prices appeared to fall slightly last month thanks to the Lunar New Year and Kim Jong Un’s birthday on Feb. 16, along with grain sales by state-run grain shops, they recently skyrocketed and are now where they were before last year’s harvest.

“The North Korean authorities claimed they had an unprecedented bumper crop last year, but substantively, agricultural production barely climbed,” said Cho Chung-hee, the director of Good Farmers’ research institute and an expert on North Korean agriculture. “In North Korean currency terms, food prices seem like they fell a lot, but in dollar terms, we can’t say food prices fell much this year.”

Based on the exchange rate at the time, the price of rice in Pyongyang on Mar. 19 of last year (KPW 5,550) was USD 0.67 a kilogram. On Mar. 17 this year, the price (KPW 5,200) was USD 0.61 a kilogram. 

In dollar terms, the price of rice has hardly changed from last year.

With the start of the spring lean period, expanding imports is the surest way to stabilize market grain prices in North Korea. However, this is no simple matter.

“The North Korean people need 10,000 tons of grain daily,” said Cho. “A freight train car can carry an average of 30 tons of grain. This is to say, even if you filled a 10-car freight train with grain, you could only import 300 tons per trip.

He added: “Making up North Korea’s food shortages will be tough, even if you imported food by filling freight trains or ships with grain.”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

March 22, 2024 at 11:30AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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