North Koreans find it harder than ever to seek out imported food products at local markets

North Koreans are finding it harder than ever to seek out imported food products within the country’s markets, Daily NK has learned. Indeed, prices of some items are now seven times above they were before the blockade was put in situ early last year.

A source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK last Friday that the worth of 1 kilogram of flour at the Pyongsong Okjon General Market was KPW 11,200 on Mar. 23, quite 3 times above in October of last year.

The cost of sugar has reportedly skyrocketed to KPW 30,100 per kilogram – seven times above the October 2020 price of KPW 4,180 per kilogram. North Korean soyabean oil is currently being traded at KPW 27,800 per kilogram, quite double the worth from October of last year.

Because Okjon Market is North Korea’s largest wholesale market, even Pyongyang-based merchants come to Pyongsong to order goods.

As a wholesale market that mainly distributes products to other regions of North Korea , it generally has lower prices than markets in other regions, including those near the border.

This means that the costs of Chinese food products at markets near the border are likely even above those at Okjon.

Market official on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province
Market official on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK
The source also told Daily NK that it’s becoming difficult to seek out Chinese flavor enhancers, soyabean oil , imported medicines, fertilizers, pesticides, and tropical fruits like tangerines and bananas.

“We can’t even take out products like seasoning or condiments, including things like underclothes, cloth, or agricultural products brought in from China,” the source said. “Even if we could find them, they’re so expensive that we can’t buy them.”

Because Chinese imports are either too expensive or impossible to seek out , merchants have had to sell locally-produced replacements.

The price of sugar has become so prohibitive that some markets have begun selling a replacement called “grape sugar powder.” The flour-like white powder is claimed to possess a syrupy-sweet taste.

Grape sugar powder is manufactured by mixing various chemicals in pharmaceutical factories.

Meanwhile, prominent official markets located faraway from the Sino-North Korean border, including Okjon Market, are reportedly opening at 10 AM and shutting at 6 PM.

Last year, North Korean authorities declared an “80-day battle” to succeed in the country’s economic targets, limiting market operation hours to 3 hours between 3 PM and 6 PM. This policy reportedly led to great discontent among merchants.

Business hours were increased back to eight hours at the start of this year, but with the beginning of the agricultural season just round the corner, opening hours will likely shift to 4 PM to eight PM to accommodate all the people mobilized to help with farming.

“There has got to be a gentle flow of products and consistent business hours for anyone to form money, but all we get is more interference from the authorities,” the source said. “People keep saying that trade will resume, but no measures [have been implemented by the authorities] to truly make that happen.”

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