MAFRA Minister Lee Stresses Significance of Rice & Other Grains as of Public Goods
He says gov't has come up with steps to sustain agriculture industry and farming villages
Minister Lee Gae-ho of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA)
Minister Lee Gae-ho of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) spoke at a breakfast session of “Sejongno Forum,“ hosted by the Korea Civil Volunteer Federation at the Plaza Hotel on Nov. 15.
“Twenty-five years ago in 1992 when Uruguay Round negotiations on agriculture took place, the Korean agriculture industry was in crisis, on the verge of going out of business, but the industry is now sustained in a difficult way, and as grains, including rice, have now become public goods, (the nation) cannot give them up.” Lee said.
The following are excerpts of a lecture MAFRA Minister gave at a breakfast session of “Sejongno Forum” hosted by the Korea Civil Volunteer Federation at the Plaza Hotel on Nov. 15.
Minister Lee looked at the current status of the agriculture industry and farming villages as well as foreign country examples.
The portion of the agriculture industry out of gross domestic product (GDP) has declined from 5.4 percent to 1.9 percent in 20 years. Korea is no exception, with a steep acceleration of an aging population. People aged 65 or more account for 58 percent of the farming population. The more shocking is that farming households aged 40 or less take up a meager 0.9 percent, and agriculture proprietors number as low as 9,000.
For instance, Korea’s rice production is valued at about 6.6 trillion won. The government’s budget for direct and indirect support related to rice amounts to 5.6 trillion won. The government shoulders about 800 billion won for the purchasing of rice for stockpiling, and spends 100 billion won to manage the rice stockpile yearly – 300 million won per ton of rice as management costs. It puts stockpile rice used for processing on the market, but four years later, storage rice purchased for 2,200 won per ton is dumped for use for feed at a price of 208 won.
The reality is that 77.7 percent of people recognize the importance of the agriculture industry, but they have a negative attitude toward sustaining the industry with government subsidies. Grains need to be retained and developed as public goods through the national coffers. Foreign countries also provide government support.
The EU stressed productivity in the 60s. Entering the 1990s, the EU changed course and began to support farming households without production so that the agriculture industry can be sustained.
The agriculture industry not only has an economic function, but it also preserves the environment, ensures food security, and maintains rural communities for settling elderly people of farming areas. The United States maintains management safety nets for farming households, while Japan supports the restructuring of the agriculture industry and funds R&D to nurture next-generation farmers.
Korea has also come up with steps to sustain the agriculture industry and farming villages. The government provides support to youth farmers and takes countermeasures against marginal farming and ageing agricultural population.
The government implements a pilot program to build four smart farms. Gimjae and Sangju have been already selected as parts of the smart farm sites. The pilot program is part of the government’s scheme to turn 70 percent of vinyl greenhouses across the nation into smart farms.
The MAFRA plans to implement policies to ramp up safety inspection into agricultural produce, make it value-added, and help youth farmers give the shot in the arm of the agricultural industry and farming villages. (Photo and drawings on the courtesy of the website of the MAFRA)