Daily NK has learned that the prices of some fruits and vegetables in North Korea has recently skyrocketed to nearly twice last year’s prices. Prices are reportedly climbing as production plummets due to the scorching heat and poor pest control. 

A source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Wednesday that a kilogram of spinach that used to cost KPW 500 in Pyongsong’s Okjon Market recently climbed to over KPW 1,000. “The price of cabbage, which used to cost KPW 900, is also climbing every day,” he said.

He said peaches are KPW 9,000 each, apricots KPW 12,000 each and plums KPW 11,000 a kilogram, about twice what they were at the same time last year.

“With good rains in spring, we got decent harvests of spinach, spring cabbage and eggplant, cucumbers, chili peppers, pumpkins and lettuce, so the prices were OK,” he said. “Recently, however, you can hardly find cucumbers, eggplant or chili peppers, and sellers can name their price.”

The source said with vegetable and fruit prices skyrocketing, a growing number of thieves are stealing produce to sell in the markets. This has farmers and the relevant authorities pulling their hair out.

Climbing fruit and vegetable prices in North Korea are directly attributable to falling harvests due to unusual weather such as heatwaves, droughts and floods.

“With more and more days pushing daytime highs of 33 to 38 degrees Celsius, there are continuous reports of damage like vegetables and fruits ceasing to develop and sunburned produce,” he said. “In particular, in Sukchon and Pyongwon – major fruit producing areas of the Pyongan provinces – apples, pears and peaches got hit hard by hail in June, with a drought on top of that. So people are saying there’s little to harvest.”

“Chili peppers, cucumbers, eggplants and other produce dried up and died,” he said. “Apples and peaches face major impediments to development in hot weather.”

He said most fruit might look red, but they are small and ripened only on the outside. With little to harvest, he said, a growing number of farmers are expressing concern.

A tractor on a farm in North Korea
A tractor on a farm in North Korea. / Image: Todd Mecklem, Creative Commons, Flickr

Previously, Daily NK reported that persistent heatwaves and drought had hammered fruit and vegetable farms in some parts of North Korea. Torrential downpours in August have reportedly amplified those losses, piling misfortune upon misfortune.

Repeated natural disasters have made crops more susceptible to pest damage, but farmers have been unable to properly respond due to insufficient pesticide. This has also reportedly played a role in falling production.

Locals are apparently facing a worsening food situation due to COVID-fueled economic difficulties and rising fruit and vegetable prices.

“In the past, vegetables were cheap, so you could make due with them, but this year, we’re struggling because the prices have climbed so much,” said the source. “A growing number of people say they have no money to buy rice, let alone eat vegetables.”

Meanwhile, the falling vegetable and fruit harvest is reportedly having an impact on food distribution in Pyongyang.

Another source said that even though television and newspapers report that Pyongyang is receiving fruit, “there is hardly anything in fruit or vegetable shops.” He added that “it’s growing more difficult to find fruit or vegetables in Pyongyang’s markets, too.”

North Korea had a rough time last year due to insufficient supplies of vegetables to Pyongyang. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rather exceptionally raised the issue of “ensuring the lives of capital [Pyongyang] residents” – rather than the people as a whole – during a party politburo meeting.

Following Kim’s statement, North Korea’s Cabinet convened an enlarged plenary meeting where it adopted a “major decision” to improve the residential environment of Pyongyang residents and provide stable supplies of domestic water, vegetables and other items. However, the source said no relevant orders have been issued so far this 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.