Vegetable prices spikes, rice remains stable

The price of vegetables including cabbage and radish has surged around the
border regions in North Korea and to a lesser degree, further inland. The
sudden spike is believed to be driven by sanctions jitters, unseasonably cold
temperatures, and excessive mobilization for the upcoming Party Congress, but
is being viewed by some as a temporary upswing, given the continual stability
in rice prices and foreign exchange rates.

“Back in February, cabbage was selling for
around 2,500 KPW (per kilogram), but prices have suddenly jumped to 7,000 KPW.
That’s more expensive than rice,” a Daily NK source in Ryanggang Province
reported on April 25. “Now is usually the time when food supplies are short
(because of the barley hump), but it looks like the hike was triggered by more
people mixing in dried greens with their rice to conserve their rice supplies,
in the belief that the food situation may worsen due to [implications stemming
from] the sanctions.”

Radish prices in border regions have also
surged from 1,200 KPW (per kilogram) in February to 
3,100 KPW, leading to concerns that this
year may become one of the toughest years in the recent memory. 

“In some areas of Taehongdan County, people
are eating so-called ‘radish noodles,’ which are made by coating radish leaves
with potato starch,” the source explained.

According to another source in Pukchong
County, South Hamgyong Province, the food situation has worsened to the extent
that an increasing number of families in farming communities are eating “seaweed rice.”

Conditions in the central inland areas are
not much different. Individuals who would normally grow their own vegetables
have seen their schedules disrupted by ongoing “70-Day Battle” mobilizations.
“Thanks to the continual mobilizations, said by many to be ‘turning their hearts
into black lumps of coal’, ahead of the Party Congress, business at the markets
has lost its vibrancy and the residents are miserable,” a source in Pyongyang
told Daily NK.

One key difference offering residents in
interior regions (including the capital) some relief is their spinach harvest,
which has not yet occurred in the border regions (due to cooler temperatures).
Unfortunately, the interior regions have also seen cabbage prices climb,
fetching around 4,800 KPW to 5,000 KPW per kilogram.

Despite these high prices, movements on the
rice and foreign currency front have remained relatively stable, leading people
to believe the spike in vegetables will be short lived.

“Vegetables are not export items and
therefore their prices are determined by domestic supply and demand,” the
Pyongyang-based source noted. “However strong the sanctions may be, rice prices
have nonetheless remained the same and, under these conditions, not many will
choose to eat expensive cabbages over rice,” the source added, suggesting that
prices are likely to return to normal as the markets readjust for supply and