|Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Chung Hwang-keun speaks during a press briefing at the Sejong Government Complex, Monday. Yonhap|
By Lee Kyung-min
Promotion of greater use of floury rice to help bolster food self-sufficiency, fostering of IT-savvy young farmers and agricultural land zoning to prevent haphazard development in rural areas will be the top three priorities of the government, the country's top agriculture policymaker said Monday.
Underpinning the first of three ― food security ― is Korea's floury rice, developed by the ministry-affiliated Rural Development Administration to better utilize surplus rice in Korea.
Floury rice is easy to store and more suited for food processing ― characteristic strengths of wheat, almost all of which is imported. This is why it can help reduce dependence on wheat imports, according to Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Chung Hwang-keun.
"The government plans to have the floury rice replace as much as 10 percent of imported wheat, thereby increasing the country's food self-sufficiency rate to 55.5 percent by 2027, up from 44.4 percent in 2021," Chung said in a press briefing at the Sejong Government Complex, organized on the occasion of marking the Yoon Suk Yeol administration's first year in office.
Floury rice food programs will be fortified to not only tackle decadeslong local oversupply of the once-popular staple crop but also to help ease the hunger crisis in Africa. The much-lauded initiative of the agriculture ministry is an excellent example of how Korea-led overseas development assistance (ODA) drives can contribute to advancing inclusive growth.
"Our international aid program is highly regarded by the World Food Program (WFP)," he said.
The "K-rice belt" program includes Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon, Uganda and Kenya. The countries have geographical and weather conditions unfavorable to growing crops, but Korea can help identify ways to foster agriculture.
Smart farming led by young farmers should be, the minister added, the answer to elevating the traditionally labor-intensive industry to a new growth and innovation driver.
"Only about 1.2 percent of the country's farmers are aged 39 and younger in the rural areas. How can we discuss the future of the agriculture industry without policies to nurture young industry leaders? More policy incentives will be provided for young farmers seeking to embrace IT-powered business models in animal, rice, fruit and vegetable farms."
The young farmers of today say they see business opportunities everywhere, unlike those born and raised in rural areas in a family of farmers, he said.
The "outsiders" say, according to Chung, that smart farming will be a key source of stable income, and the earnings will only grow in the long term.
However, those born into farming families are not as willing or enthusiastic in their efforts to innovate the industry into a new growth driver, and prefer to seek government support arguing that they are struggling and left helpless due to changes in people's eating habits, according to Chung.
"The government policies will have to help the positive thinkers explore opportunities and stay in business," he said.
The guidelines on the zoning of agricultural lands will be outlined clearly this year, after the National Assembly passed a related bill in February.
The construction of buildings will be allowed only when the land to house them matches the state-registered purposes of the buildings. They can be for residential, industrial, power supply or tourism purposes.