Dynamic—it is the word that accurately depicts the characteristic of Korea. Korea is known for its rapid shift from the key industry of agriculture to manufacturing within 50 years. This change brought about an increase in national income and provided a higher quality of lifestyle to its citizens. After the declaration of truce in the Korean War, the nation realized the need for an efficient and economically feasible industry to quickly revive the nation’s economy. Yet, the excessive weighing on the manufacturing industry nowadays neglects the firsthand food production process, reducing the absolute size and amount of farmland which jeopardized the agricultural system. How can agriculture restore its importance?
Korea is now standing at the point where the importance of agriculture is degrading. According to the Korean Statistical Information Service (KOSIS), the amount of cultivated land in Korea is steadily declining from roughly 18 million hectares on 2008 to 16 million hectares on 2016. This current decrease is somehow correlated to the gradual reduction in farm products. Especially, there has been a steep decrease from the vegetable production of 2.38 million tons in 2008 to 1.89 million tons in 2016 provided by KOSIS. Yet, Korea farmland decrease is an inevitable process because of the nation’s small-scale territory,comparing with other successful agricultural countries like the France, Germany and many European countries. Korea needs to use land more efficiently than the aforementioned countries.
What Hinders the Agricultural Industries
To prevent further declination of farmland, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) recently conducted the 2018 Farmland Using State Survey, which commenced on September 1 and was done for three months. The survey was enforced to eliminate the situation which hinders the efficacious usage of farmlands. This includes using farmland as a collateral for a loan and illegal renting. Such illegal acts are festering and hindering the efficiency of the current situation in agriculture, leaving the message that they should not be condoned and immediate measures are required. The survey is still in progress and results have not yet been announced; however, it shows the significance of encouraging agricultural movements.
Unlike previous surveys, the current one uses the complete enumeration method that targets the population of roughly 180,000 hectares of all farmlands owned by farmers and the *absentee landlords. Since the previous surveys used the sample survey and partially conducted complete enumeration to farmlands acquired for less than three years, it was difficult to include all the illegally used ones. Moreover, the recent survey was directly ordered by President Moon Jae-in, indicating that his administration, and therefore the nation, is recognizing the gravity of the current situation and encouraging the movement of agricultural industrialization.
To change the dull environment and make visible progress, a solution could be found from the preservation and renovation of farmland. According to Song Mi Ryung, director from the Department of Agricultural and Rural Policy Research, Korea Rural Economic Institute, recent agricultural policies focus on maximizing the productivity of farmland. As an example, director Song spoke of policies which increase mechanized dry-land farming, since Korea’s agriculture is highly concentrated on rice-land mechanization, and select the prolific and proficient farmers to expand their scale of business.
For supporting the farmers to remain and maintain a stable life, MAFRA also implemented a policy called “Farmland Banking.” Targeted to every management body, the persons concerned provide an adequate amount of farmland to each farm with corresponding economic levels of the individuals. Furthermore, they pay life-safety funds to the elderly by receiving their land as guarantee. Beyond this monetary support, MAFRA also consolidates the workforce by opening a class which teaches farming skills called House for Rural Returners. Already, policies and related laws are concentrated on how to raise the overall quality of the farmlands. Yet, inefficiency of the farm industries prevails. It is now the citizens’ turn to enhance the agricultural industry to a different level.
People’s Perception about Agriculture Playing a Major Role
There underlies a perception about the stereotypical image of the manufacture industry being profitable and technical, whereas the agricultural industry is seen as being painstaking and more physically involved. This misunderstanding nowadays taints the overall Korean society, leading to the degradation of the overall agriculture and its management. Many developed countries like France, Germany, and the Netherlands have sturdy and immaculate policies and agricultural departments which all work cooperatively, making sure to find breaches and loopholes and to eradicate them.
▲ Director Song Mi Ryung. PROVIDED BY DIRECTOR SONG MI RYUNG
Moreover, near to perfect governmental process is possible in the developed countries because their agricultural industry is expected to lead to relatively high future profitability. One of the MBS news articles was about the interview between the participants of France’s annual agricultural show, Salon de l'Agriculture. All participants sighted market potential in the farming industry and were willing to come next year. Similarly, Korea already has a well-known and annually held festival named the Bongpyeong Buckwheat Flower Festival. It well represents Gangwon province’s picturesque scenery and promotes the local food, buckwheat noodles. This could help instill the need to preserve local products.
The mass media imagery also helps to adjust the perception. Even though Korea is now experiencing the harsh agricultural state, one consolation is that the number of rural residents coming from the urban areas is increasing. According to the 2017 Rural Returners Statistics provided by KOSIS, there were 510,941 returners in 2017 and an increase of 21,428 people compared to that of 2016. Television programs and documentaries presenting the abundant and joyful life of farming are broadcast all over the place, diverting people’s attention to agriculture and shaping a good image to the people.
One may argue that people’s conception about agriculture should be primarily changed. Changed perspective toward agriculture may motivate people to respect the policies and laws rather than exploiting them, which then could facilitate whole agricultural procedures. Farmland should be identified first and then one may search for a solution. Korea has extremely limited land and in order to increase its productivity, land securing is utmost required. All those quality maximizing works should be conducted afterwards.
: Landlord who does not make profit directly but by renting to others and resides in a different place. Although, the usage of rented land should be only confined as farm-work.