North Korean authorities have recently begun selling rice to citizens at prices lower than those found in markets, but some destitute families are still unable to buy rice.

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea on Monday, the authorities began selling rice at below-market prices in cities and counties throughout North Hamgyong Province, including Chongjin and Hoeryong, from July 9.

Rice had been selling for about KPW 7,000 a kilogram in those areas, but the authorities began selling the commodity for around KPW 3,500-4,000.

In Hoeryong, however, 20-40% of families in districts such as Nammun-dong, Songchon-dong, Gangan-dong, and Yuson-dong have reportedly abandoned buying the rice for lack of money.


The source believes that this is because locals have grown even poorer due to the protracted closure of the North Korea-China border and restrictions on market activity due to COVID-19.

“They’ve restricted market activity due to the coronavirus, and in particular, the clamp down on smuggling for close to two years has had a major impact,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Money isn’t circulating due to the border closure, so locals living day-to-day have no money to buy food.

“(The authorities) are selling food at low prices, but in fact, there are more families than you’d think who can’t buy rice because they have no money,” he added. 

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

Despite this situation, however, North Korean authorities are not putting forth alternatives for these families. The source argued that the
“distribution” of rice is more for show, with little actual consideration for the right of financially disadvantaged people to access food.

The source said leaders are simply telling families without money to buy rice to “help one another to receive the Workers’ Party consideration.” He said this amounts to the authorities saying: “If you can’t buy food even though we’re selling it at lower-than-market prices, there’s nothing we can do, either.”


As a result, some North Koreans are giving up purchasing food and handing their purchase vouchers to other families – a common practice, according to the source. 

That is to say, these families are handing over their vouchers to wealthier merchants and other people in return for money to buy food.

The source said these transactions are happening because poorer residents can acquire the cash they urgently require, while merchants can store up food for when prices start to rise.

According to him, locals are complaining that “the people cannot fill their stomachs because the entire country is poor.” He also claimed that, “If the authorities had set the price lower from the very beginning, this ridiculous mess wouldn’t have happened.”

It does appear that North Korean authorities are aware of these under-the-table transactions. Political lecture materials recently obtained by Daily NK warned against “abnormal phenomena,” such as people lending others money to buy up lots of food.

Going forward, North Korean authorities may crack down on these activities, which they deem “anti-socialist” behavior.

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