Daily NK snapshots from North Korea

Photo for Daily NK snapshots from North Korea
Various crackers for kids sold in North Korea’s markets. / Image: Daily NK


The Sweetening of North Korea’s Snack Industry

Even as recently as the early 2000s, there were very few North Korean confections that were sweet. Consumers were limited to snacks like the hard-to-chew ‘Wall of Rock Biscuits,’ otherwise known as World Food Program (WFP) biscuits.Since around 2010, however, both the quality and the variety of snacks produced and sold by North Korean food manufacturers have improved – in line with a broader trend – and compete better against similar Chinese products than ever before. Even gift bags handed out for Kim Il Sung’s birthday have improved in quality. This revolution is partly due to Kim Jong-Un’s ‘Socialist Corporate Responsibility Management System,’ which allows businesses to have greater autonomy in how they operate. Food manufacturers can now quickly improve how they produce their top-selling food products without as much government intervention. As the market for candies and snacks grows in North Korea, industrial goods manufacturers – not just food manufacturers – are also beginning to make food products through collaboration with trading firms to obtain ingredients such as flour and additives from China.

The Dangers of Pine Nut Harvesting

A man is his 40s named Kang was violently assaulted by pine nut field guards in Ryanggang Province after being discovered picking pine nuts. Kang is currently in critical condition, and it is unclear whether he will ever regain consciousness. 

UN sanctions against North Korea do not apply to pine nuts. With high protein and an excess of both vitamin-B and iron, these nuts, which form the core ingredient of pesto sauce, are excellent for combating anemia and are rumored to be a good dietary aid. Unsurprisingly, they sell well in China. North Korea’s forest management offices are tasked with allocating harvesting rights to businesses; however, in regions that do not fall within the jurisdiction of these offices, ordinary North Koreans have earned money by gathering pine nuts and selling them to local trading companies. 

Pine nuts have long been a source of conflict. In recent years, influential North Korean business people have bribed forest management officials to dominate control over the these harvesting rights. This has made life difficult for North Koreans who had relied on the pine nuts as a source of income. This has led to tension between people individuals who have been trying to secretly harvesting pine nuts and the businesses who possess the formal harvesting rights. At the time of Kang’s hospitalization, there were two other people admitted to hospitals under similar circumstances.

Move Over Japan: N. Korean Elite Fancy South Korean Electronics  

Amidst persistent signs of a recession in the North Korean economy, electronic appliances (such as refrigerators, electric fans, and kimchi refrigerators) from South Korea have become popular among North Korean senior party officials. From the early 1990s until the early 2000s, there was a significant influx of Japanese electronics into North Korea, but imports were cut-off after Japan imposed sanctions against North Korea. At that time, South Korean secondhand electronics began to fill the void and it now appears that South Korean brands such as Samsung and LG are much more popular than Japanese ones. Senior officials and donju (“masters of money,” or North Korea’s wealthy class) secretly trade these goods behind the backs of customs authorities. Despite crackdowns by the state, the demand for South Korean goods is so high among the elite that a South Korean laptop is difficult to procure, even at two to three times the price of a Chinese laptop. The popularity and high price of South Korean electronics among senior party officials stands in stark contrast to the rest of the population, which is struggling with day-to-day finances and reduced rations due to the economic downturn.