[EDITORIALS]Anger doesn’t help farmersA bill to ratify Korea’s agreement with rice exporting countries that was certified by the World Trade Organization has been approved by the Assembly’s trade committee. It now awaits passage by the full Assembly.
Some farmers’ organizations are staging fierce protest rallies nationwide. The government came up with measures for farmers: a rollover of farmers’ debts and additional purchases of 200,000 tons of rice from them. The same old vicious circle is repeated again.
We understand the difficulties of farmers. There are farmers who commit suicide out of desperation because of accumulated debts and who have been severely damaged by cheap agricultural produce from China. On top of that, the market price of rice has plummeted this year because the government abolished the system of buying rice from farmers in the autumn. It is true that they face double or triple the problems they did earlier. They appeal, “We don’t know how to earn our living, because we have no other skills than farming,” and we understand their situation. But the government’s measures are far from satisfactory.
There is, to be blunt, no quick solution. The future of Korea’s agriculture will be even harsher. The negotiations on agriculture in the Doha Development Agenda negotiations are moving in a direction unfavorable to us. We cannot vote down the rice deal as the farmers demand; that is the worst choice, and those who demand renegotiation of the deal are blind to the cold international realities. The claim that “we can avoid opening our rice market completely, even if we veto the ratification bill” is very irresponsible. It is no different than proposing to leave the lives of our farmers to an uncertain future.
This is the time for farmers to think deeply about what they can do for their own survival. It is foolish to insist on selling rice at three to four times the international market price forever. The only way out is to make our agriculture more competitive, and the most urgent immediate step is to draw up an effective plan for spending the 119 trillion won ($114 billion) the government promised to give farmers in an effort to cope with the effects of market opening. It will avail us nothing if our farmers decide to quit farming to open barbeque restaurants and leave their expensive greenhouses idle.
The priority should be on restructuring and reducing rice cultivation to bring it into line with demand. We have to turn to high-value agricultural produce that will hold its own against cheaper imports. Angry demonstrations can’t revive agriculture.