Some sociologists claim that the greatest invention since the inception of South Korea is the Unification rice seed which clearly distinguished our economic growth momentum from that of North Korea as it laid the foundation for us to be self-sustaining in terms of food. In this globalized environment, food already has become an even more destructive weapon because many countries strongly control or sometimes prevent exports of food. As an example during the period of 1932~1933 in Ukraine there were about 10 million people who starved to death upon the prohibition of wheat exports by the Soviet Union.
In Korea, there are 1.2 million farm households on 1.7 million hectares of farm land, producing $ 40 billion in terms of the GDP. We imported $23.4 billion and exported only $5.1 billion in 2010. While other countries have been striving to enhance their agricultural productivity, our production of rice has decreased from $1 billion to $0.8 billion over 10 years despite the extensive subsidies given by our government.
The agricultural innovation can function as one of the most effective ways to modernize provinces. Hokkaido in Japan which is well known for cold weather was a deserted island until the development of a rice seed which can endure severe cold weather. As farmers moved in, all the other aspects of city development followed.
If we focus on the cost efficiency in the agricultural industry, imports are definitely cheaper. However, we must perceive the industry from the perspectives of biology, the environment, as well as the economy.
One of the most important reasons why our agricultural industry has not been growing appears to be politics. The welfare of farmers has been a key issue drawing enormous opposition followed by a series of demonstrations, especially surrounding FTAs. The government always seems to be in a hurry to appease the angry farmers with promises of various subsidies and supports.
Despite the intensive, sometimes embarrassing, political uproars and subsequent government promises, it is rather obvious that the agricultural industry has been behind the curve of development. We should approach agriculture not from political views but from professional, technological, and economical views.
The drastic climate change, needs for alternative energy sources, and demands for higher standards of living in developing countries will make food even more precious and scarce.
Recently, we have been hearing inspiring success stories of retired baby boomers who have returned to farming. It gives us a hint that if a highly educated labor force with analytical and technical perspectives participate in the agricultural industry, it can become an industry with the potential to create value-added jobs that our young people have been asking for.
Our country is equipped with excellent soil and water, IT technology, a highly educated labor force, and an improving trustworthy national reputation. We just need to gather wisdom to integrate them effectively. It is imperative that, in academia, we must design the agricultural education programs to be closely integrated with technology, such as IT engineering, biological technology, etc. Like any other industry, we must create an environment where our young people perceive the agricultural industry as a land of opportunity and high level research and developments can continuously occur. More than anything, we need to work together to make agriculture the industry creating high value and promising jobs.