The authorities in some regions of North Korea sold rice and corn to locals as “commemorative provisions” to mark the Party Foundation Day holiday on Oct. 10, a source in South Pyongan Province reported on Wednesday. 

There was a rise in public discontent, however, because the authorities sold the holiday grain at near-market prices after previously providing it at state-set prices, or about one-tenth of market prices.

The grain sale was issued through state-run food shops. The food policy departments of local people’s committees reportedly handled planning and administration of the distributions. 

The rice cost KPW 4,000 a kilogram and corn cost KPW 2,000 a kilogram. Though this was slightly lower than market prices, local residents were reportedly displeased that the price difference was not greater.

In fact, the market price of rice in North Korea as of Oct. 4 was KPW 5,000 a kilogram in Pyongyang, KPW 5,000 in Sinuiju, and KPW 5,500 in Hyesan. Meanwhile, corn cost KPW 2,000 in Pyongyang, KPW 2,100 in Sinuiju, and KPW 3,000 in Hyesan. 

Rice sold for about KPW 1,000 a kilogram less than its market price, but the corn was at about market price. This reportedly prompted locals to complain that “the state has begun using holiday provisions to make money,” and that “we would have been better off buying food at the market.”

Though the sale was ostensibly a holiday provision, with the authorities selling the rice and corn at market prices, many families reportedly could not afford to purchase the grain at state-run food shops.  

North Korean alcohol
Regional varieties of alcohol sold in markets in North Korea. / Image: Daily NK

The sale appears not to have gone as planned because the state-run food shops were unable to obtain sufficient supplies of grain.

According to the South Pyongan Province-based source, the food shops initially announced they would sell six days worth of Party Foundation Day provisions — three days worth for the first half of the month, and three days worth for the second half. However, they sold only three days worth at 500 grams of grain per person a day. The provision for the latter three days did not happen due to insufficient supplies.

Meanwhile, no holiday provisions took place in regions such as Yanggang Province and North and South Hamgyong provinces.

A source in Yanggang Province said Wednesday that authorities sold rice and corn through state food shops in late September, but “no gifts were provided or sold in October for Party Foundation Day.”

“Last year for the 75th Party Foundation Day, they gave out confections or spirits, but this year, they didn’t even provide that,” he said.

It appears the holiday provision represented the initiative of local party branches and food shops in certain regions rather than a comprehensive decision by the national authorities.

Generally, North Korean authorities provide a bottle of spirits, a kilogram of pork, towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other goods as part of holiday distributions. In recent years, however, they have often failed to provide these provisions to the people. 

The authorities did reportedly sell 80 grams of seasonings and 120 grams of cooking oil through party agencies and other government-run organizations. 

According to a report on North Korean trade published late last month by the Seoul-based Korea International Trade Association (KITA), North Korean authorities imported cooking oil, sugar and seasonings for the first time this year in August.

It appears highly likely that North Korean authorities distributed the foodstuffs recently imported from China to government organizations and workplaces, with some of it being sold as holiday provisions.

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.