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February 2024

North Koreans face difficulties amid spike in rice prices

January has long been considered a hard time to make money, earning it the monicker, “the rotten month”

FILE PHOTO: A house near the Yalu River in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. (Daily NK)

North Koreans are suffering from worsening food shortages amid a recent spike in the price of rice.

Speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Monday that the price of a kilogram of rice in Pyongsong markets “has risen by nearly KPW 1,000 from the beginning of the month, which has caused angst everywhere.”

According to the source, a kilogram of rice at a particular market in Pyongsong was in the high KPW 4,000 range at the beginning of the month but had climbed to KPW 5,500 by Jan. 25.

“You can’t make any money even if you work all day at the market. Things are so tough that you can’t even imagine holding a KPW 1,000 bill,” the source said. “So it’s a huge burden for people, even if the price of rice goes up just a little.”

Meanwhile, a kilogram of corn at a market in Pyongsong cost KPW 2,500 on Jan. 25. While this is not even half the price of rice, it is still a burden on the general public, the source claimed.

“A family of three consumes 1.2 to 1.5 kilograms of corn a day if they eat only corn mixed with rice,” the source said. “If a kilogram of corn costs KPW 2,500, a family must spend KPW 3,000 to KPW 3,750 per day.”

“Since a bundle of firewood to cook meals for a day costs KPW 2,500, a family has to spend KPW 5,500 to KPW 6,250 daily just to eat corn mixed with rice,” he said. “Given that most people make less than KPW 1,000, they can’t put food on the table.”

January has long been considered a hard time to make money, earning it the monicker, “the rotten month.” North Koreans say every year at this time that “the rotten month must pass quickly or we’ll starve.”

“People facing economic struggles get sick because they are undernourished, so they spend more and more money on medical care,” the source said. “But since it’s so hard to make money in the markets, it’s getting tougher to escape the quagmire of poverty, no matter how hard you struggle.

“Nowadays, people I know only light their kettle fires once a day because it’s so hard to make money. After lighting the fire in the morning to make rice or porridge, they cover the kettle with a coat or thick clothes until the next meal so the food doesn’t get cold.”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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Published Date: January 31, 2024

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