[EDITORIALS]Farm policy needs work

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[EDITORIALS]Farm policy needs work

President Roh Moo-hyun announced yesterday, on the occasion of Farmers’ Day, that the government would spend 119 trillion won ($100 billion) on agriculture over the next decade. According to a detailed plan provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the money will be spent to improve farming techniques, stabilize the income of farming households and expand education and welfare facilities in rural areas.
Korea is under heavy international pressure to open its agricultural industry, in accordance with free-trade agreements and progress in negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda. The government showed a strong will to resolve the difficulties and achieve the right policy.
But money and planning alone do not guarantee good results. In the last 11 years, some 82 trillion won was poured into the farming sector, but our farming methods are still backward and farmers are busy paying off their debts and interest. This has resulted from the irresponsibility triggered by the reckless allocation of tax money. In deciding the price of rice that the government purchased from farmers, government policy was swayed by the logic of politicians. Consequently, despite what the government paid for rice, we had to pay more than four to five times more than the international market price.
The government must keep in mind that an agricultural policy not based on economic logic is doomed to fail.
The sum of 119 trillion won is a huge amount, and it should be spent to reap the maximum effect. Before making investments or giving loans, the economic viability of the project should be scrutinized and the lenders’ credibility must be checked thoroughly. It is also necessary that the door is left open to the private sector for its contributions to agricultural development and environmental improvement. For example, if the government allows -- by drastically relaxing regulations on farmland -- market principles to work, private funds will be funneled to rural areas. This will save money, allow better utilization of land and faster recovery of farm incomes.
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