North Hamgyong Province residents recently received provisions of food, Daily NK has learned. Discontent is apparently widespread, however, because the authorities have provided only a week’s worth of sustenance.

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Wednesday that as “market prices for rice climb to unprecedented levels with the closure of the border due to the coronavirus” and “locals clamor about food shortages,” the government began providing food to local residents from Monday “by releasing what little military stores of rice they had.”

In North Hamgyong Province, the authorities have been distributing a week’s worth of food per person since Monday morning, focusing on the densely populated provincial capital of Chongjin. Locals must pay to receive the food. 

“The government’s price for unglutinous rice is KPW 3,500, and for corn it’s KPW 1,500,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Unlike the past, they aren’t distributing the food through food ration centers attached to grain processing facilities. Instead, they are distributing ‘food tickets’ to families within each inminban through local people’s committees and then providing them with eight parts corn and two parts unglutinous rice – all depending, of course, on the size of the family.”

chongjin security
A view of Chongjin. / Image: Daily NK

Accordingly, the price of rice in Chongjin — which had climbed as high as KPW 7,200 recently — fell to KPW 5,300, while corn prices fell from KPW 4,300 to KPW 3,500, the source said. 

Though the authorities are selling the rice at below market prices, locals are reportedly quite dissatisfied with receiving only a week’s worth of food.

In fact, locals are denouncing the measure. “For the first time in our lives, we are receiving rice that could either be [government] rations or disaster relief – we don’t know which,” they say, according to the source. “But if they give us only a week’s worth of staple grains – and we’re not talking about just seasonings here – all [the government] is telling us to do is just eke by.” 

Many Chongjin residents say that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, they lived so well on their business acumen and talents that they felt no envy toward people living in the Sino-North Korean border region, who are generally afforded better opportunities for cross-border trade. They complain, however, that despite the fact they have suffered greatly since the border was sealed, the state has provided them rations that amount to “bird feed.” Outraged, they are saying, “These rations apparently aim to assuage the people, but we don’t want them,” according to the source. 

“If they open the border, Chongjin residents could confidently obtain three months’ worth of food from Chinese traders and sell it off in three days in the town square,” some members of the donju, the country’s wealthy entrepreneurial class, are saying, according to the source. “The state can’t do a thing and is simply making the people feel insecure. If the state can’t do anything, it should just sit back and get out of the way.”

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to