[EDITORIALS]A new deal for farmingFarmers took to the street yesterday, demanding that the government resolve the debts of farming households and opposing the opening of the agricultural and livestock product markets. The intent seems to be to exert pressure before the presidential election. We fully sympathize with the desperation of farmers, when the agricultural environment deteriorates every year. But how long will farmers and the government stay on parallel tracks?
Behind the farmers' demonstration lies the failure of the agricultural policies of the government and politicians. In the nine years since the Uruguay Round, government investment of 50 trillion won ($41 billion) to restructure the agricultural industry has marginally improved its competitiveness. But farm debts have constantly risen, and the gap between the steadily rising domestic rice price and the world price has grown. While Korea is complacent over the small victory of buying some time, Japan has thoroughly transformed the frame of its agriculture.
The politicians' perspective also is unchanged. Presidential camps are pouring out promises unlikely to be met, such as expanding government support to farmers or continued delay in opening the rice market. Those policies are sugar-coated junk, made only to win popularity, not real solutions generated by policy analysis. The price at which the government buys rice must be adjusted to the market price. Instead, the government relies on annual makeshift increases.
Agricultural policy must go through a fundamental reform. We have to become competitive while preventing the erosion of our agricultural base. But agricultural society in Korea may be unable to adjust to the new environment, as farmers age and families leave the land. Farmers must realize that the government cannot continue to support rice prices artificially. They must accept that globalization and liberalization are the global trends. Farmers and the government must face each other's problems on the way to the transformation of agricultural policy.