NK Food Situation, Pyongyang Rationing Also Hits a Snag

[imText1]There is a warning signal ahead for the food rationing situation in North Korea.

On the 23rd, North Korean sources said that since April, only certain areas of Pyongyang have received rations, while many local areas have already been cut. On the Workers’ Party Foundation Day (10.10) last year, North Korea restarted rationing; yet from the beginning, the rationing has not advanced as was planned. Furthermore, since early this spring, even Pyongyang has undergone a severe shortage of food.

Mr. Kim, a North Korean trader that now stays in Dandong, China, explained, “Officials working at the central agencies (the Party, Ministries, and Court) in Pyongyang have gotten rations, but the workers of general factories and small companies in local cities have to find food for April and June on their own.”

Mr. Kim added, “Despite a severe shortage of food, some wealthy, powerful people are persisting well. Yet the people who rely on the food rationing of factories mainly go to local areas to exchange goods for food.” This failure of the food distribution system in North Korea has led to a situation where North Koreans have to withstand starvation by their own means as they await the new potato harvests.

At the same time, price of rice at Jangmadang (a kind of black market) has begun to rise. This is because traders, set on increasing rice prices, had the forsight to stock up heavily on rice.

Rice at Jangmadang (in Shinuiju) is traded at 1,000 won ($0.33) to 1,200 won ($0.4) per 1kg, and Yongcheon rice (yielded in Yongcheon) at 1,200 won per 1kg. Chinese rice is 900 won ($0.3) to 930 won ($0.31) per 1kg, and corn is 300 won ($0.1) to 400 won ($0.133). Shinuiju rice is a little more expensive than that of other cities, but its wheat flour is cheaper. This is because rice comes into Shinuiju from other cities, but Chinese wheat flour is distributed to each city solely via Shinuiju.

[imText2]A North Korean, Lee Young Sung (pseudonym, 62) who stayed in Dandong to visit his relative living in Heping district of Tianjin in China said, “I forgot about the food rationing. Last year the government made a rationing list, yet until now there has been no news.” He also mentions that, “Because I was not a worker, I was not likely to be in the list.”

Mr. Lee, who lives in Heecheon of Jagang Province, worked as a feller and retired 2 years ago and has visited China twice after receiving a letter saying that his older brother was alive and an invitation from his older brother who was separated during the war. Mr. Lee said that, “Unlike the past, today visiting China is not difficult. If the purpose of a visit to China is said to be for food, relatives are known to live in China, and his or her invitation is presented, then the government issues a pass.”

However, Mr. Lee hinted that a China-visiting pass is issued conditionally. That is, after visitors to China come back to North Korea, they have to offer some food to the National Security Agency and singles or people with no relatives are limited in getting passes. It is because they would not be likely to come back to North Korea.

Mr. Lee said, “As for me, it is better because I found my older brother. However, other people living in our village go out to rivers to dig for gold and to mountains to dig for edible plants.”

March and April, called the ‘Barley Period (Borigogae)’ are the worst period of farming difficulties. By now it is almost time for the crops and edible plants (side dishes) harvested last year to run out. In the case that edible plants run out, North Koreans prolong their lives by eating grass or wild plants. However, because of death by starvation in the mid 90’s, which resulted in indiscriminate reclamation, even wild plants like bracken are not easily found now.