The Price of Rice Has Risen, But Not to the Point of Starvation

Yanji, China — With the rapid increase in food prices since the spring of 2008, even some North Korean cadres have stopped their work to conduct business in the jangmadang.

An inside source in Yangkang Province said in a phone conversation with Daily NK on the 21st, “As a whole, compared to last year, the quality of our diet has fallen significantly. In particular, life for public servants has become more difficult.”

The source said, “It does not make a difference to civilians like us because we are used to working in the jangmadang to make a living and getting by without national provisions. Nowadays, the cadres of Party organizations and their family members, those who did not traditionally work in the jangmadang because of the plentiful provisions they received from the State, have set out on this path of trade.”

The source continued, “Since April, the government has only been giving out provisions to the head of each department of the People’s Safety Agency in Hyesan, Yangkang Province. As for the remaining staff, only 15-days worth of one-serving provisions have been supplied. The discontent among the agents of the People’s Safety Agency over the discrimination is quite significant.”

He said, “With conditions worstening, those who have not been engaging in sales until now—the Provincial People’s Committee or the Municipal Committee leaders and average schoolteachers, doctors and their families—have been coming out to the alleyway markets. They do not even have a street-stand in a jangmadang, so they sit illegally in the alleyways, but the People’s Safety agents in charge of regulating the jangmadang have been reluctant to take action against them because they know who these people are.”

Will the people starve like before?”

The source said, “In Hyesan, the price of rice rose to 2,200 won around April 15th and is now fluctuating between 1,800 to 2,000 won. In particular, the price of corn, despite the fluctuating price of glutinous rice, has been fixed at around 750 won.”

An inside source in Hoiryeong, North Hamkyung Province also relayed, “ We have not been able to provide rice to laborers since April. Even for the office workers, provisions have been limited to 15 days worth of rice per individual or have stopped altogether, so the price of food has been skyrocketing and people have been fighting to acquire rice.”

The source said, “Nowadays, office workers are worse off than laborers. Middle-rank officers who have been receiving provisions up until now have been rushing to obtain rice with the sudden cease in provisions.”

Laborers who did not receive State provisions from the start have been saving their rice, but those who have become accustomed to relying on provisions have been panicked by the sudden cessation.

The source relayed that “Hyehwa Middle School teachers in Hyesan finish all their lessons by 1 in the afternoon and have been permitted to go out to the jangmadang. Likewise, public servants of the neighborhood office punch the time clock in the morning, and then go out to obtain rice, so the offices have been empty and no work has been getting done.”

“In Hoiryeong, it used to be that North Korean rice was fixed at 2,000 won, South Korean aid rice at 1,900 won and Chinese rice at 1,700 won, but now in the afternoons, we are starting to see fluctuation in the prices, with North Korean rice falling to 1,900 won,” he said.

A source in Yangkang Province forecasted, “In our province, we are in the most difficult period now. In the near future, goods such as spinach and spring cabbage will be coming in from the inland region and Kilju and spring vegetables will be ripening, so the price of rice is expected to fall slightly.”

In response to the question as to whether people have begun to starve to death as a result of the food shortage, the sources confirmed, “We have not reached that point yet.”

Our contact in Yangkang Province said, “During the ‘March of Starvation’, we did not even have brewers’ grains to eat, but now, people feed that to the pigs. It is true that living conditions have become a bit more difficult with the rise in food prices, but it has not reached the point of starvation.”

The Hoiryeong source also said, “With the significant rise in food price, the quality and the amount of rice have fallen quite a bit, but people have not been starving for days at a time. People who previously consumed only rice are now mixing rice and corn 50/50, and those in more dire situations eat 30/70 or 20/80.”