grasshopper market exchange rate
A "grasshopper market," or unofficial market, in a village near Pyongyang. (Chinese blogger Lóng Wǔ*Láng Zhī Wěn)

A recent spike in the price of staples such as rice and corn at North Korean markets is making things even tougher for ordinary people in the country.

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Wednesday that the price of rice at markets in the city of Hyesan has been increasing since the beginning of last month.

Moreover, since June 30, the price of one kilogram of rice has gone above KPW 6,000, leaving more North Koreans without access to grain and stoking anxiety among the public, the source said.

He also reported that rising food prices have made things even harder for street vendors, who were already hit hard when the North Korean authorities closed the national borders  and intensified crackdowns on the vendors. 

According to the source, one resident of Hyesan who supports herself by selling rice cakes on the street has made few sales since June. Crackdowns by the Ministry of Social Security have kept her from selling rice cakes, putting her further in debt.

Without any income, the woman cannot even keep up with the interest on the loans she took out to fund her business. If she misses a second deadline for making her interest payment, the interest will balloon and her credit will collapse, leaving her unable to borrow any more money, he explained. 

On top of her predicament, food prices in the market continue to rise, and the woman is now afraid she will become completely destitute.

“Even though the ‘barley hump’ has passed, food prices just keep getting higher and higher. The mood among the populace is so grim that some are afraid people will resort to cannibalism if things keep on like this. Many people are so famished because of the high cost of food that they can’t even go to work,” the source said.

Although many North Koreans are complaining about the hardship caused by rising food prices, the government has not taken any noteworthy measures to relieve the situation. 

Back in March and April, the government took steps such as supplying food at lower-than-market prices or slapping price ceilings on food items. Now, however, the government is not doing anything, leading some to wonder if officials have just abandoned efforts to improve things.  

“The government seems to have given up on taking action in areas connected with the public livelihood, including increasing exchange rates and market prices,” the source claimed, adding, “Why else would it be focused on having security and police officials keep the populace under control?”

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.