[EDITORIALS]Applause for farm commentsMinister of Agriculture and Forestry Huh Sang-man recently said, “Farmers and local governments must look for ways to save agriculture and take responsibility for failed projects.” He also emphasized that the government would no longer “provide subsidies to console protesters.” He is right. At a time when the nation must open the rice market further, it is a difficult thing for an official who is responsible for agricultural policy to say. But someone must say so, and that is why we evaluate Mr. Hur’s words highly. At the same time, we expect his words to be implemented.
Since the Uruguary Round Agreement was concluded in 1994 and the opening of our agricultural market started, Korea’s agricultural policy has failed year after year. The government poured a huge amount, 70 trillion won ($62.6 billion), into agriculture under the guise of enhancing competitiveness. But the conditions of farming communities deteriorated further. In the past 10 years, farmers’ incomes increased by a mere 2 million won on average, while their debts increased by 20 million won. Farmers still cry out for help and demonstrations against “market opening” are repeated endlessly.
The government is mostly responsible for such results. Putting measures for enhancing comepetitiveness of agriculture on the back burner, it only presented pork-barrel policies like writing off farmers’ and fishermen’s debts to gain more votes. Local governments and agricultural cooperatives were busy taking their share. The enormous amounts of money went into thin air. But nobody takes responsibility.
This vicious circle should not be repeated. Opening the rice market further is inevitable. The government should not hush it up, fearing the reaction of farmers. It must inform people of the difficulties and look for ways to boost the competitivness of agriculture. Revise the farmland law, so that money can flow into farms from cities, and change the rice purchase system, that relied on government, to a market-centered one.
It is also necessary to prevent local governments and farmers from corrupt practices: no more demands for “writing off debts.” Farmers must learn to stand on their own feet instead of begging for protection. Japan coped with market opening wisely. Investing 129 trillion won as planned, or even more, will prove to be nothing but pouring water into a bottomless jar if we do not understand the international scene.