N. Korean rice sellers raking it in thanks to skyrocketing prices

Small-scale rice sellers are resorting to purchasing rice from local farms to keep up with the demand

The rise of North Korean rice prices have led to massive profits for rice wholesalers who acquired rice from China before the closure of the Sino-North Korean border in late January, Daily NK has learned.

The dearth of Chinese rice due to the border shutdown led rice prices to skyrocket up to between KPW 6,000 to KPW 6,500 initially. Now, however, prices have now settled back down to between KPW 5,500 and KPW 6,000 in parts of the country.

North Korean commodity prices stayed relatively stable despite international sanctions and such a steep rise in prices over such a short period is the first observed in 10 years.

“The rise in rice prices due to the coronavirus means that merchants have had to find any way possible to acquire more rice,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK today.

“Small-scale rice sellers typically sell about 50 kilograms of rice per day in markets in Pyongsong. Now that they have no more Chinese rice to sell, they are purchasing rice from local farms to sell in the markets,” the source said.

Large rice wholesalers, meanwhile, are reportedly making large profits from the increases in price all over the country.

“There are five large-scale rice wholesalers in Hyesan and they have about 10-18 tons of rice imported from China,” the source said. “They had acquired the rice to sell for Lunar New Years, Jeongwol Daeborum [celebrating the first full moon after Lunar’s], and Kim Jong Il’s birthday on February 16 and are now selling it in the markets.”

The wholesalers are making “unimaginable” sums of money, the source added.

“The donju [North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class] are selling rice they obtained [before the shutdown of the border] at expensive prices and are making more money off their rice than usual,” one source said.

The wholesalers in Hyesan have reportedly released only some of their stocks of rice into the markets as part of efforts to keep prices high. Nonetheless, Daily NK sources reported that rice prices have fallen slightly as the supply of rice continues to increase in the markets.

Rice sellers in markets in Hyesan reportedly have typically made profits of KPW 300 to 400 off the sale of one kilogram of rice, which means they have been able to make profits of up to KPW 15,000 to KPW 20,000 when they sell 50 kilograms on a given day.

With the price of rice skyrocketing by at least KPW 1,000, rice sellers in the city are now making twice as much, sources said.

The price of one kilogram of rice in Hyesan Market cost KPW 5,700 today, which is a decrease of about KPW 700 from Feb. 19 and Feb. 20.

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

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.