The food shops recently established by the North Korean government to control the supply and price of rice have little or no rice to sell, Daily NK has learned. 

According to multiple Daily NK sources in North Korea recently, state food shops across the country continue to open their doors and staff show up to work, but they have nothing to sell.

Shops face the same situation in small cities as well as in large ones, such as Hyesan in Yanggang Province and Sinuiju in North Pyongan Province. One source told Daily NK that shops with rice stocks have “10 sacks [of rice] at most.”

A source in Pyongyang said few residents of the city use the state-run food shops “because many are government cadres who receive rations.” 

“The performance of the state food shops in Pyongyang is the lowest in the country,” he continued, adding, “And they’re not operating now, either.”

From July 6, starting in Pyongyang, state food shops began selling five days’ worth of rice per person at prices slightly lower than could be found in the markets. 

Initially, North Korean authorities had planned to provide citizens with three months of grain per person at lower-than-market prices. This became impossible, however, due to insufficient supplies of the commodity. 

In fact, North Korean rice and corn accounted for nearly all the food sold by the government in early July. Generally speaking, the authorities did not use supplies of rice or corn imported from China during the distribution. 

Various kinds of grains being sold in Yanggang Province markets. / Image: Daily NK

According to a high-ranking source, some of the Chinese rice imported by Ri Pyong-chol, the former vice chairman of the country’s Central Military Commission, was included in the distribution to Pyongyang residents. About 80% of Ri’s rice, however, was stored for “emergency use” by the Workers’ Party. 

The source claimed that the authorities decided against providing the Chinese rice to people given the problematic way it entered the country. In fact, Ri was dismissed from his post for arbitrarily importing the rice in violation of quarantine guidelines.

However, North Korean authorities have reportedly established plans to accept food aid — should the international community offer it — and sell it to locals through the state food shops.

In a Voluntary National Review (VNR) to the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on July 13, North Korea said its plan to produce seven million tons of grain faces problems. It confessed that grain production had plummeted to the lowest level in a decade, since the country produced just 4.95 million tons in 2018.

A high-ranking source claimed that North Korea revealed its domestic food situation through the UN after deciding to accept international food aid.

Within the Workers’ Party, some have reportedly argued that if the country were to cheaply sell rice and corn received as international food aid through the state food shops, it could kill several birds with one stone: rice prices would stabilize, the state’s hurting finances would be bolstered, and the government would be provided a propaganda boost for supplying food to its people. 

Pyongyang may energetically move forward on the rice aid issue given these potential benefits. However, it appears likely the government will not accept food aid from organizations or governments that demand monitoring of the aid’s distribution.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to