Posted by: r.m. | April 12, 2012

Economic structures destroying local agriculture..and farmers fighting back: Korea

Same story, different country.

Globalization, Economic Structures, Weakened Local Agriculture, Decreased food security and food sovereignty


From the excellent Food First:

the paradox of this Korean food globalization is that getting a truly Korean meal in Seoul is not easy. In fact much of the food in Korea today is not grown or raised in Korea. The chickens are raised in the Philippines, the beef in Australia or the U.S., the soybeans are from Argentina and the wheat is from Russia. Today, there is very little that is truly Korean about Korean food.

In fact today, among the 34 member nations of the economically powerful Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Korea ranks among the lowest, with an overall self-sufficiency rate of only around 50 percent. …The concern over food security has resulted in the government allocating millions of dollars for securing food supplies overseas in the next decade. But what about Korean agriculture? Why is Korea not able to feed itself despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world? Are Korean farmers not able to produce enough food or is something else going on?

there are complex global economic forces at work which are together making South Korea an increasingly more expensive and impractical place to be in the farming business. This “modernization” of the economy, in the form of removal of trade and economic barriers, has not benefited rural areas to the same extent as the cities. Many rural communities are suffering from poverty and economic stagnation. Biased development policies and focus on export and trade have left Korean agriculture in a state of crisis.

Korean agriculture has been in perpetual crisis since the 1980s failure of Park Chung Hee’s Rural Infrastructure program the New Community Movement or Saemaeul Undong. By the mid-1980s, many Korean farmers experienced severe debt problems after investing heavily in infrastructure and agricultural inputs. The crisis was exacerbated following the 1997 economic crisis, which led to liberalization of the agricultural sector as part of structural adjustment policies.

By the end of the 1990’s Korean farmers began to voice their dissatisfaction with domestic agricultural policies at the international level most notable during the 2003 World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations in Cancun, Mexico. The conference was marked by tragedy when farmer Lee Kyung-hae crawled the fence surrounding the WTO negotiation complex and stabbed himself to death wearing a sign around his neck saying “WTO kills farmers” to raise awareness of the plight of small farmers not only in Korea, but around the world. Lee’s statement has changed little. Farm debt is continually rising, and household incomes remain much lower in rural areas than in the cities.

The crisis of Korean farmers and the country’s food security crisis is thus a structural problem related to domestic policies favoring industry and trade over agriculture and food self-sufficiency. This is in turn is related to economic globalization. The continued disregard for Korean agriculture by the government can also be seen in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the U.S. and Korea that was ratified in November 2011 by the Korean Assembly.

In short, the Korean government is, on the one hand, seeking to secure food supplies overseas, either through farm land investments in distant developing countries or through free trade agreements with the U.S., the European Union (EU) and Australia. On the other hand, it continues to marginalize Korean farmers by eliminating farmland and allowing unfair competition for Korean produce and livestock. ….

But the Korean farmers’ movements are not only protesting. They are also building up an alternative food system within Korea, a system that embraces local, healthy, environmentally-sustainable and socially-just food”

Read the article in full here: The Fight for Real Food in Korea


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