Demand for corn and processed corn foods has been increasing in North Korea recently, leading to higher prices for the commodity, Daily NK has learned. 

“Corn is really popular among the people right now,” a source from South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on June 1. “North Koreans are struggling financially these days, and this is the result of people seeking out more affordable corn over more expensive rice.”

Corn is currently around half the price of rice or flour,” the source continued. “Since you can buy two kilograms of corn for the same price as one kilogram of flour or rice, it’s naturally going to be more popular.” 

A recent investigation by Daily NK found that corn prices in Pyongyang, Sinuiju (North Pyongan Province) and Hyesan (Ryanggang Province) stood at KPW 1,500, KPW 1,400 and KPW 1,600, while rice prices were KPW 4,300, KPW 4,230 and KPW 4,500, respectively. Ultimately, corn is an average of 65% cheaper than rice in many areas of the country.

As market conditions deteriorated last year due to economic collapse [due to international sanctions] and lower agricultural production caused by natural disasters, people have seen their overall incomes decline,” the source stated. “With the added impact of border closures due to COVID-19 this year, people are foregoing rice and seeking out cheaper alternatives.”

The popularity of corn and processed corn products can also be seen in markets. 

“Fried corn, corn snacks, corn noodles and cornbread are big sellers in South Pyongan Province’s Pyongsong Market,” the source said, noting, “And it’s not just Pyongsong. Corn is even more popular as a staple food in the central mountainous regions.” 

Merchants currently have their hands full trying to obtain enough product to meet the skyrocketing demand, the source added.

The popularity of corn is also leading to a surge in corn prices. According to a recent Daily NK market price survey, the price of corn in Pyongyang rose 29% from KPW 1,200 on Jan. 1 to KPW 1,550 on May 24. Prices have also spiked by 25% in Sinuiju and Hyesan, suggesting that corn has become more expensive across the country. This stands in contrast to last year, when corn prices fell by 30% over the same period.

Alongside the increase in demand, a sharp drop in supply due to the closure of the Sino-North Korean border has also contributed to the rise in prices. 

Radio Free Asia (RFA) recently analyzed a report released by China’s General Administration of Customs containing statistics on exports to North Korea from January to February, finding that Chinese exports of corn and rice to North Korea had fallen by around 90% compared to the period stretching from November to December last year.

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

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.