Not exactly starving, as some of his subjects reportedly are doing, but when North Korea leader Kim Jong Un attended a consultative meeting of senior officials of the Party Central Committee and the provincial Party committees in the headquarters building of the Party Central Committee on June 4, he was seen to be thinner than before. The dictator seemed to have lost weight around his chin, chest, and arms. Photo: AFP / EyePress News

Kim Jong-un last week said publicly that North Korea is experiencing food shortages. “The people’s food situation is now getting tense,” he told senior leaders at a meeting, blaming failure by the agricultural sector to meet this year’s grain targets following typhoons and consequent flooding last year.

Whether he has correctly identified the causes or not, there is new confirmation that he’s not bluffing – not poor-mouthing just to inspire any outsiders who might be so inclined to ship in some food.

“Breaking News Inside N. Korea,” reads the headline of a story by Osaka-based AsiaPress, which relies for its news on undercover reporters equipped with smuggled Chinese cellphones with which calls outside can be made if one is close to the border. “Markets in turmoil across the country. Trading suspended as food prices hit year high and fears of what will happen next grow.”

Citing the results of its periodic surveys AsiaPress says the price of white rice has fluctuated wildly in the markets of three cities in the northern part of the country, rising drastically from 4,200 North Korean won on May 28 to 7,000 June 15, then declining to 6,500 June 19 only to rise even higher to 7,500 as of June 22. Corn, a more plentiful and affordable staple grain, showed a similar price pattern starting at 2,200 won and ending up at 5,500.

AsiaPress quotes a “reporting partner living in Hyesan” as lamenting that “The price hike is serious. I’m afraid of what will happen next. The market managers, police officers, and price-fixing teams cracking down on high prices are too bewildered to intervene. Those who have the goods are not willing to sell them, and the market is barely functioning.”

“Everyone is dying,” the story quoted a reporting associate living in Hoeryong as saying. Less hyperbolically, another AsiaPress article reported that “people are starving and unable to work on the farms that produce their food. This year’s agriculture is ‘manchetta‘ (meaning ruined, no good) was the word heard on all the farms we investigated.”

AsiaPress acknowledges that the situation may be more favorable farther south in the breadbasket province of Hwanghae. And it says people still have hope, because the word is that China will provide massive food aid next month.