At least some of North Korea’s food distribution centers, places that have traditionally been used to distribute rations to people working for smaller factories and enterprises, have begun to sell corn, an inside source has informed Daily NK.
“The food distribution center started selling grain on the 18th,” the source told Daily NK. “They explained that this was just for those people working for factories operating on a ‘self-sustaining’ basis, but in reality there was no limitation on who could buy it.”
However, the source went on, “There is a fixed quantity of corn that any one individual can buy, so large purchases are impossible.”
This is the first time outside the Rasun Special Administrative Region that such food distribution centers, which are operated at the city, town and county level by provincial food procurement bureaus, have been legally permitted to sell grain.
However, “The grain they are selling is corn of such poor quality that people reckon it must be feed for animals. So while they are selling it for 200-300 won less than market price, not many people are taking them up on it,” the source mused, adding that food distribution centers are now being referred to as “stores”.
Under the ‘June 28th Policy’, larger factories and other enterprises run by the state are reportedly to adhere to the existing distribution system, but workers in the approximate equivalent of North Korean SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) are to receive their wages in cash only, ending their access to what remnants of the rationing system survived the famine of the 1990s. Allowing food distribution centers to sell grain appears to be one way to make this altered system more viable for those laborers.
However, the source expressed serious doubts whether the food distribution center would be able to secure sufficient supplies of food to sell under such a system over the long term, especially if it grows to encompass sales of other grains besides corn.
In Rasun, a system under which the municipal Party committee buys food supplies from China then sells them to local people and pays off the debt with the proceeds has been in place for some years; however, a broad decline in the quality and quantity of grain available at below market prices in this way eventually pushed many people back into the market.
In Musan, North Hamkyung Province the response to the change has been one of considerable cynicism, especially with the quality of the corn on offer being so low. According to the source, people are starting to think that the June 28th Policy represents either no reform at all, or the kind of reform that nobody is likely to find very welcome.