May 15 (UPI) -- The price of rice, a staple North Korean crop, is falling, despite heavy sanctions and peak demand season, according to a South Korean analyst.
Prices have been falling steadily since late 2018, when rice prices hovered at 5,000 North Korean won ($4.21) per kilogram (2.2 pounds). The price had reached 4,180 won ($3.52) by Tuesday, South Korean news service Seoul Pyongyang News reported.
Kwon Tae-jin, head of the North Korea and Northeast Asia Research Center at the GS&J Institute in the South, told SPN demand for rice has declined among ordinary North Koreans because of economic difficulties.
Kwon also said North Koreans are turning to substitutes, including wheat flour or corn. Flour-based food products are increasingly used among North Korean food vendors, Kwon said.
Flour comprises 80 percent of imported foods, according to the analyst.
A source in North Korea's Ryanggang Province told SPN flour is preferable because it can be cooked in a variety of ways. The source added flour prices are rising, and at a higher rate than the price of rice: Flour now trades at 4,300 won ($3.62) per kilogram and corn at 1,800 won ($1.52) per kilogram.
The North Korean diet is evolving at a time when the country continues to claim it is suffering the worst drought in nearly 40 years.
State-controlled news agency KCNA said Wednesday about two inches of rain fell across the country during the first four months of 2018.
Precipitation has reached only 42 percent of normal rainfall, according to Pyongyang's news agency.
South Korea has offered humanitarian assistance, but the North has reacted negatively to the news and suggested this week Seoul is not doing enough to expedite the food aid, or reopen Kaesong, the jointly operated factory park in the North.
North Korea's Red Cross Society is in China this week.