Street market in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province rice sellers dollar rate
FILE PHOTO: North Koreans are seen peddling goods at a street market in Hyesan, Yanggang Province. (Daily NK)

North Korean rice and corn prices continue to rise, suggesting that more and more North Koreans are having a difficult time acquiring food. 

According to Daily NK’s regular survey of North Korean market prices, a kilogram of rice in North Korean markets was KPW 5,300 in Pyongyang, KPW 5,320 in Sinuiju and KPW 5,600 in Hyesan as of June 12. In Pyongyang and Hyesan, the price had climbed by KPW 300 compared to May 30. In Sinuiju, it climbed by KPW 120.

The price of corn has also climbed from KPW 50 to KPW 200 compared to prices on May 30. As of June 12, a kilogram of corn cost KPW 2,800 in Pyongyang, KPW 2,830 in Sinuiju and KPW 2,850 in Hyesan. 

Essentially, the price of rice and corn has climbed as high as 6% to 7%. 

Generally speaking, the prices of grains such as rice or corn fall slightly from late May to mid-June as potatoes and barley gradually start to appear in markets. In fact, at the end of last month, the price of rice and corn did appear to fall as farmers began to harvest potatoes cultivated on private plots of land.

However, stable prices appear to be climbing again. Large amounts of potatoes and barley from collective farms must appear in the markets in order for rice and corn prices to fall. So far, however, not enough of the harvest has been released onto markets.

When potatoes, wheat and barley from farms start hitting the markets, the price of grains should fall. However, many North Koreans are saying that yields may be small due to recent droughts.

In the immediate term, public discontent is growing as the prices of rice, corn and other stables continue to climb. “Many families already eat a porridge of grass for one of their daily meals, and rising corn prices would hurt, even if they rise by just KPW 100,” a Daily NK source in North Hamgyong Province said. “It’s really tough [for people] to eat.”

Meanwhile, the price of gasoline in North Korean markets has fallen by over KPW 1,000 nationwide. As of June 12, a kilogram of gasoline cost KPW 12,300 in Pyongyang, KPW 12,000 in Sinuiju and KPW 12,200 in Hyesan. This was a 9% to 12% fall compared to prices in late May.

On the other hand, a kilogram of diesel cost KPW 10,040 in Pyongyang, KPW 10,200 in Sinuiju and KPW 10,060 in Hyesan, generally holding steady compared to late May. 

According to a Daily NK source in Pyongyang, imports of oil products such as gasoline and diesel have continued even after North Korea tightened the closure of its borders due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19. There was reportedly a delivery of oil from China in early June as well. 

The fall in gasoline prices has been hastened by the rise in imports, which has led to an increase in available supply. The decrease can also be explained by falling demand for gasoline due to bans on movement in the country. 

However, the price of diesel has stayed steady because the country continues to use agricultural machinery during the farming season, along with greater demand for diesel over gasoline for various production and transportation activities. 

The exchange rate for the dollar and yuan has also fallen across the board. The dollar was trading at KPW 7,100 in Pyongyang and KPW 7,120 in Sinuiju and Hyesan as of June 12, falling slightly since early June. 

Meanwhile, the yuan was trading at KPW 790 in Pyongyang, KPW 800 in Sinuiju and KPW 810 in Hyesan, about KPW 20 to KPW 30 more than it was last month.

The tightening of the country’s borders and falling trade activity due to COVID-19 appear to have caused a fall in the exchange rates. However, with rumors going around that the authorities will partially permit trading organizations in certain border regions to engage in China-North Korea trade, it is still unclear whether exchange rates will continue to fall or whether they will rebound on expectations of renewed trade.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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