Pine mushrooms smuggled from North Korea into China are being seized from private traders by security agents, who sometimes sell the sought-after delicacy to smuggling gangs and pocket the profits, North Korean sources say.
Considered a valuable source of foreign currency by North Korea’s cash-strapped regime, the mushrooms fetch low prices when sold directly to trading firms controlled by the country’s military, a source in North Hamgyong province, bordering China, told RFA’s Korean Service.
“North Korea rarely buys pine mushrooms at a proper price at [official] purchasing offices,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They say whatever they can to downgrade the value of the first and second-best quality pine mushrooms, and give the seller only a kilogram of flour, or about 3 Chinese yuan [U.S. $0.44], for each kilogram of pine mushrooms, “ the source said.
“But middlemen who buy pine mushrooms for smuggling to China will pay from 200 to 300 Chinese yuan [U.S. $29.22 to $43.83] per kilogram, so people do their best to sell pine mushrooms to the middlemen instead,” he said.
To crack down on the private trade. North Korea’s security agency has now set up checkpoints on all the roads leading to mountain areas where the mushrooms are found, and some traders lose every mushroom they have collected when they are caught, the source said.
“The authorities are desperately trying to stop the private pine mushroom trade,” he said.