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How did South Korea develop agriculture? What is the current situation of agriculture in Korea?

When the nation was founded, South Korea was a typical agricultural country. 63% of the country’s population lived in rural areas, and agricultural development was also very backward. South Korea then implemented a series of reform plans, which not only improved the agricultural level, but also realized the country’s industrialization and urbanization. How did South Korea develop agriculture? What is the current situation of agriculture in Korea?

  1. Development of South Korea Agriculture

The development of South Korea's agriculture mainly benefits from the operation of mechanization and government subsidies. In order to promote the development of agricultural mechanization, the South Korean government began to provide subsidies and loan programs in 1967 to help farmers purchase agricultural machinery. In the following 30 years, it has also continuously reformed and formulated new subsidy policies. South Korea’s financial support for agricultural machinery increased from $427,394 (500 million won) at the beginning to more than 590 million US dollars (700 billion won) in the 1990s. In addition, the government also requires farmers to receive training before using machinery to reduce accidents caused by improper use. Agricultural machinery suppliers and manufacturers are also required to undertake after-sales maintenance of agricultural machinery. South Korea promulgated the Agricultural Mechanization Promotion Law (AMPL) in 1978, and a agricultural mechanization development plan has been formulated every five years since 1972. South Korea basically realized agricultural mechanization in the late 1990s and completed the transformation from traditional agriculture to modern agriculture.

The agricultural structure adjustment in South Korea adopts a market-led and government-supported method and strategy. The market is guided by economic benefits and implements a market elimination system for the crops grown by farmers to realize the rational allocation of land, raw materials, and labor. The government does not impose coercive force on agricultural production and development, but provides guidance and technical support. The Korean agricultural industry under this model has developed significantly, and the total agricultural output value has increased rapidly. Under the development framework oriented by market forces, South Korea’s agricultural product structure and land use structure are increasingly inclined to economic crops with higher economic benefits, such as meat, eggs, and milk, which are high-demand agricultural products.

  1. Current situation of South Korea Agriculture

With major achievements in the development of industrialization, South Korea’s agriculture played a relatively minor role in economic development. In 2019, agriculture’s share in GDP accounted for only 1.6%, and the share in employment accounted for only 4.88%.

South Korea is a mountainous country. The area of arable land is very limited, and it is still shrinking as a result of industrialization and urbanization. At present, South Korea’s arable land is about 1644,000 hectares, and the per capita arable land area is only 0.03 hectares. With the massive outflow of young people, the problem of rural aging has become increasingly serious. The population over 65 accounts for more than 40% of the rural population, which has also marked a huge challenge for Korean agricultural development.

Due to the scarcity of agricultural resources, South Korea's agriculture is very dependent on imports. The current food sufficient rate, based on grain, in South Korea is 23%. About 500,000 farmers are leaving the work force every year, which is putting even more strain on that figure. Even when all foods are included, the self-sufficiency rate in South Korea is just 52%. The largest import partner of South Korea is the United States, followed by China.

In order to solve these problems, the vision of 2018-2022 Development Plan has put forward four main policy targets.

  • Strengthening income safety net
  • Innovation for sustainable agriculture
  • Enhancing food safety
  • Improving rural welfare

South Korea transformed agriculture through mechanization in the 1970s to 1990s, but now it hopes to develop agriculture through technology. Digital technology will be integrated into agriculture with regard to production, distribution and rist management. Renewable energy generation is expected to be promoted, including solar photovoltaic, biomass and geothermal heat. Meanwhile, the government promises to improve welfare and subsidies to farmers, such as expanding crop insurance program, enhancing direct payment for retirement, building infrastructure including housing, traffic and medical condition, affordable transportation for the elderly and financially disadvantaged and so on. These measures are going to have a positive effect on preventing farmers from leaving the rural.