North Korean authorities provided people throughout the country with food at lower-than-market prices in early July, but no food distributions have been detected since. 

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that there has been no talk of food provisions since North Korean authorities sold locals five days’ worth of food at bargain prices earlier this month. “There’s been no relevant orders from the leadership, either,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

Previously, North Korean authorities had held lectures claiming the state would provide people with three months of rice from military stores at lower-than-market prices.

The lectures came after the authorities unveiled a “special order” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the Third Enlarged Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers Party of Korea in mid-June. 

Until early July, however, nothing had been done to implement this pledge. Then, on July 6, the authorities began distributing food, starting in Pyongyang. Generally speaking, individuals received five days’ worth of food at the time. 

Based on the source’s account, North Korean authorities will not keep their initial promise to distribute three months of food. He also claimed that state-run food shops are providing spotty sales of food.

Street market in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province rice sellers dollar rate
In this undated photograph, North Koreans are seen peddling goods at a street market in Hyesan, Yanggang Province / Image: Daily NK

North Koreans are reportedly wondering whether the authorities will actually provide them with more food, whispering to each other: “The state apparently has no grain, either.” 

With the state’s distribution of food on hold, market grain prices appear to be rising once again. A kilogram of rice had been selling for KPW 5,500 at Hyesan Market through July 18, but the price has recently climbed to KPW 6,000. Moreover, the price of corn has climbed slightly, from KPW 3,300 to 3,500.

Food prices are rising because business people are refusing to sell off their stocks, according to the source. 

Relatedly, North Korean authorities have recently begun exerting tight control on markets through the “June 17 Task Force,” which is tasked with cracking down on food hoarding and price gouging among food sellers. 

Grain sellers are responding to the crackdowns by hiding their food stores, the source claimed. He predicted food prices will continue to climb for the time being, further straining the food situation.

“More and more locals are suffering malnutrition, and some people are even starving in certain areas,” said the source. “If the closure of the border and market controls continue under the guise of coronavirus quarantine efforts, even people with excellent survival skills will have a tough time getting through this.”

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