[EDITORIALS]Cross-border farmingThe first meeting between North and South Korean officials to discuss cooperation in the agricultural field has ended with seven articles of agreement. The officials agreed that the two sides would co-manage cooperative farms and tree nurseries in a particular region of the North, and combat pest damage to crops. If the agreement is implemented as it is written, it could function as a stepping stone to fundamentally change the agricultural structure of North Korea and produce some actual progress in North-South exchange and reconciliation efforts.
The North and South Korean officials agreed that South Korea would provide farming equipment and materials such as fertilizer and chemicals, as well as agricultural technology. North Korea has agreed to let South Korean experts visit designated regions toward this end. Seoul has long been asking for such visits, which could do a lot to alleviate the food shortages North Koreans have experienced for more than a decade now. To date, the North Koreans have refused such visits, demanding only equipment and materials, presumably for fear of letting outsiders see the shortcomings of cooperative farms, the “bulwark of socialism.”
Since 1995, South Korea has provided about 730 billion won ($712 million) in food aid to its North Korean cousins. And yet North Korea can’t seem to extricate itself from annual food shortages amounting to as much as a million metric tons. The price for rice, which once cost 44 North Korean won per kilogram, reached 600 to 900 won in May. The fact that Pyongyang officials have changed their minds and agreed to co-management with the South signals an acknowledgement that the shortages will not be solved by external aid alone.
The South Korean government should do what is necessary to see that this agreement is implemented without further ado. Food aid to the North can actually benefit the relevant industries in the South. The domestic fertilizer and agricultural chemical industries have been going through tough times due to a decrease in foreign demand. If the annual 30,000 metric tons of fertilizer aid to North Korea is stopped, it could mean a crisis for the domestic fertilizer industry. All things considered, this agreement reached in Kaesong will hopefully become a cornerstone for solving the North’s food shortages and serve as an example for inter-Korean co-existence.