Farmers protest low rice prices

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Farmers protest low rice prices


Farmers protest the government at the South Chungcheong Provincial Office to do something about a national surplus that has depressed rice prices. [YONHAP]

Rice farmers demonstrated in front of local government buildings on Monday, demanding action against the sinking price of rice.

“We suffered the worst flooding in 30 years, and still the price of rice is falling,” said Lee Dae-yeol, a demonstrator in South Chungcheng. “But the government is totally silent [regarding our situation].”

According to Statistics Korea, rice production in 2010 will be about 4.3 million tons, a decrease of 11.6 percent from 2009, mainly because of abnormal weather. The harvest in South Chungcheong, which was hit by typhoon Kompasu in September, may be only 808,000 tons, down from 2009’s 915,000 tons.

Even though harvests are down, the average price of an 80-kilogram (176 pounds) bag of rice has dropped 4.9 percent from 143,000 won ($126) in 2009 to 136,000 won in 2010, Statistics Korea said.

Prices are falling because of a large inventory from previous years. As of October, the total rice surplus was estimated to be 1.3 million tons, double the reserve stock advised by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

Typhoon Kompasu also pushed rice prices down because it led to inferior crops in South Chungcheong, which the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation buys at a lower price.

In Yesan County, South Chungcheong, five or six farmers protest every day and stack bags of rice in front of the county office. The protesters said that from Nov. 12, about 400 farmers began to put one bag of rice each on the pile to request compensation and protective measures for the affected farms.

Farmers in Gimje, North Jeolla borrowed that tactic and have piled 350 bags of rice in front of their city hall.

“[If the city can’t handle this problem,] we want civic groups to roll up their sleeves and compensate us 2,000 won per bag of rice,” said Seo Jeong-gil, the leader of the demonstrators in Gimje.

Other areas where farmers are piling up rice bags are Iksan, Jeongeup and Gochang County in North Jella; Naju in South Jeolla; Chuncheon in Gangwon and Gimhae in South Gyeongsang.

The farmers are asking governments to help boost demand for rice to 2009 levels, as well as boosting financial aid to rice farmers and using up the surplus by donating it as aid to North Korea.

The North Chungcheong Provincial Council, in a message to President Lee Myung-bak, National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae, and Yoo Jeong-bok, Minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, recommended giving rice aid to North Korea immediately, allowing farmers to plant other crops in rice paddies and setting the state’s buying price higher.

“We are now thinking about devising a measure to stabilize the falling price of rice and purchase the surplus, considering the demand estimated for 2011,” said Min Yeon-tae, the manager of the Food-Grain Policy Division at the Ministry for Agriculture. “We expect rice prices to rise next year because we saw a poor harvest this year.”

By Kim Bang-hyun, Shin Jin-ho []
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