Local governments in North Korea are scrambling to make candies for a nationwide celebration of Kim Jong un's birthday in January.
In preparation for the leader's celebrations, the government is forcing hungry citizens to pay for it.
At a time when the country is struggling with food shortages, said to be almost as bad as the 1990s famine, the nationwide baking project has made a huge dent in flour and sugar supplies, doubling prices and funneling money away from people who need it to buy food.
A resident of Unsan, South Pyongan province, said: "Since yesterday, the price of one kilogram of flour has jumped from 12,000 won (U.K. £1.80) to 30,000 won (£4.50).
"The price of sugar has also jumped from 13,000 won to 25,000 won.
"It's all because the central government has ordered that each province must produce and supply confections as gifts for children from Kim Jong-un for his birthday on January 8," said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
The gift of sweets to children on or around the birthday of a country's leader or his predecessors has been a longtime tradition in North Korea, founded by Kim Il Sung, Jong Un's grandfather.
Early in Kim Jong-un's rule, candies were supplied to mothers and students in daycare and elementary schools on January 8, but since 2019, the government expanded this to candy gifts across the country, to be received on January 1.
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"The amount of imported flour and sugar circulating in local markets is very limited because border trade has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic." said the source from Unsan.
They added: "Prices for flour and sugar will continue to rise until food factories finish producing the confections."
Economic devastation and widespread food shortages in North Korea are due to a closed border with China and suspension of trade with Beijing at the start of the pandemic, almost two years ago.
Prior to the pandemic, most sugar imports had been, according to the source, coming from China.
With prices on the rise, some local governments are forcing the people to pay for the ingredients.
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"Starting today, food factories in Uiju county have started producing confections for Kim Jong-un's birthday," a resident of the county in North Pynongan province said.
The source, who wishes to remain private, added: "To purchase the raw materials for confections, the county party directly imposed a tax of 5,000 won on each household."
The local government has a deadline to finish the candy by December 20, and has already started directly controlling distribution of all flour and sugar in the country to secure enough of each ingredient in food factories, according to the second source.
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The results have seen even less flour and sugar reach the markets.
"They even demanded each house provide one egg for confection production. As people must purchase the eggs for donation at the local marketplace, the market is running out of eggs," the second source said.
"Residents are angry that the authorities are wiping out the pockets of the people at a time like this to make candy for children, supposedly from Kim Jong-un for his birthday."
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