Cultivate a Realistic Farming PolicyFarmers around the country continue their protests, demanding partial debt write-offs. A rally planned for Thursday in Youido was thwarted by a police blockade, but in other places police clashed with farmers, some of whom blocked roads. There was also trouble on Wednesday as protesters turned in farm machinery to local cooperatives and staged all-night sit-ins. The government deserves a big share of the blame for the farmers'' plight, which is due in large measure to the failure of agricultural policies. The farmers are asking why they are being left out when the government is willing to pour no less than 150 trillion won($126 billion) into bankrupt corporations and banks.
Nevertheless, no matter how well-founded their anger is, the farmers should not resort to destroying public property and blocking traffic. With the government and elected officials already in the process of negotiating special legislation on debt remission, farmers should show some patience. They are gravely mistaken if they believe they will get more by holding mass demonstrations.
Politicians are also at fault. This will be the sixth time agricultural debt has been written off. Every time there is an election, the candidates promise write-offs as if they were a panacea for everything that ails the agricultural sector. Once in office, they generally pay little attention to the farmers until there are protests, then push for special legislation. Their inconsistency has left agricultural policy in shambles. The Grand National Party, while insisting on more farm aid than the Millennium Democratic Party, has irresponsibly walked out on budget deliberations. If the farmers would just think over what they have actually gotten out of previous debt remission, they would realize that this political showmanship is not really to their benefit.
Eventually, another plan for debt write-offs will be announced, and again it will be water poured down the drain. To break the vicious cycle of farm debt, policies that address the root causes of the problem must be instituted. Most Korean agricultural products are not competitive on an open market. This calls for a long-term master plan whereby the areas in which Korean farmers can compete effectively are supported. This would best serve the farmers and the economy.
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