[EDITORIALS]At last, a good farm policyThe government has poured 82 trillion won ($68 billion) into the agricultural sector since the conclusion of the Uruguay Round agreements in 1993. Most of the money went to increases in arable land, road construction and expansion of agricultural facilities for modern farming. But the situation in our farm sector has not changed much from that of 11 years ago. The fundamental reason is that money was spent only on expansion of facilities without touching on problems inherent in agriculture and the structure of our farms. In that sense, we evaluate the government policy to reform the existing farming system as epoch-making.
The consumption of rice has dropped to less than two bowls a day per person, the opening of the rice market is unavoidable, and our self-sufficiency in rice would not be affected even if we reduced rice paddy areas by 30 percent. Despite that, we have been trapped by the principle of allowing rice paddy land to be owned only by those who till it, and we did not dare to think of allowing farmland to be used for other purposes. Farm land was inviolable. Although belated, the decision to allow easier changes in land use is a positive move and shows a correct understanding of the situation. Allowing farmers to rent out land will make it possible to develop economies of scale, and farmers will be able to attract urban capital to buy less competitive farm land for other purposes. That is a desirable policy that will protect farmers’ assets, create jobs and save both agriculture and our farm land.
As the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry has pointed out, however, the procedure for turning farm land to other purposes must be carefully supervised, lest there be speculation and uncontrolled development. Especially, farmland in the suburbs of big cities must be under tight control so that those evils can be avoided.
We must pay attention so that money invested in farm land contributes to employment and income growth in the farming sector. Agricultural development will be meaningful only when the quality of farmers’ lives is improved. The owners of good farm lands designated as agriculture promotion areas will feel relatively deprived; the government must help them.