[EDITORIALS]Rice Policy Needs More SimmeringThe government's rice purchasing program was revised only after a month into the harvesting season, which drove farmers and others into confusion. As they approach this issue, the ruling and opposition parties are putting their interests first, which only worsens the concerns of the rice policy.
The government and the ruling party announced a final plan Monday. According to the program, the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation will buy 288,000 tons of rice, in addition to the government purchase of 1.908 million tons this year. In order to maintain a stable price, the government said it would not sell purchased rice when the market price declines. Because this year's production surpassed all estimates, and because farmers felt uneasy about the plunging rice price, the government said it has come up with a special decision, bearing an additional financial burden. After the government announced its long-term plan for the rice-farming industry in August, rumors spread in the agricultural community that Seoul had given up its rice production promotion policy. While grain merchants withdraw from the market, the rice price has plummeted. The government should have predicted such market reaction as it had already overstocked rice. Seoul first released its purchasing program for 2001 at the end of August; if it had not predicted the current condition then, what a shortsighted view that would be!
The sagging rice price and distrust of the rice policy aroused much fear in farmers' minds. In some areas, farmers are destroying rice fields instead of harvesting. Farmers' organizations, including the Korean Farmers League, are increasingly holding demonstrations. Of course, in some part of their argument, farmers are only seeking their own interests. Still, the government holds more responsibility for the current condition since it had concealed the problem associated with overproduction of rice and persisted in its promotion policy to maximize harvest until the summer. Because the government revised the policy just before the harvesting period, how can farmers have confidence in the government?
Moreover, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry made the situation worse by announcing that it would reconsider a long-term rice policy. The long-term policy must have been established with a considerable period of preparation. How can a nation's farm policy be changed only because the agriculture minister was replaced?
The opposition party proposed to send an excess amount of rice to North Korea. The proposal is definitely an appropriate decision but it still requires thorough consideration on the amount of support and whether we will provide rice in stock or imported rice. However, the opposition hastily mentioned that the government should send 288,000 tons of rice to the North, confusing farmers even more.
A fundamental change in the rice industry is unavoidable. The rice policy should focus on producing an appropriate amount of quality rice instead of maximizing quantity. The government should guarantee a certain amount of income for farm households, rather than supporting production.
Furthermore, the changes require a consistency in farm policy, even after administration changes. If the government keeps adopting stopgap measures, the farm policy will lose confidence and eventually fail to resolve the current problems. At this point, both the ruling and opposition parties should never employ bow to only toady farmers. Such actions will eventually disappoint the farmers.