Korea stressing caregiver role at the global level
SUWON, Gyeonggi - A two-hour forum on Tuesday, discussing ways to improve Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, was supposed to have a break at 4:15 p.m., but Mohammad Arif Aqil and 17 other participants from Afghanistan showed no intention of slowing it down, even for a few minutes.
At the forum, held at the International Technical Cooperation Center of the Rural Development Administration (RDA) here in this city south of Seoul, the Afghan contingent, comprised of agricultural officials from the war-torn country, kept the three RDA representatives busy answering questions or requests through an Afghan-English interpreter.
“We need items like trucks, health experts, artificial insemination technologies for livestock and research [expertise], and we want to know whether the RDA can help us on this,” said Aqil, director of DAIL, the Afghan state agency in charge of animal health, during the forum.
“I didn’t expect it to be heated like this,” said Moon Hong-kil, director of the RDA, who attended the forum. “They had many requests for us and we will see how we will be able to help with those requests.”
The forum, part of a two-week training program that the RDA regularly arranges for officials of developing countries - this time for Afghanistan - provided a glimpse into Korea’s transformation into a world caregiver. Korea, it seems, has a strong will to attain that goal.
“Two or three decades ago, RDA sent people to the Netherlands or Japan to learn about advanced technologies from those countries, and now Korea is in a position of teaching,” said Cho Weon-bae, who worked at the RDA for 33 years. “It is amazing to see that change, and I am happy to be part of it.”
Korea, host of the recently concluded G-20 Summit in Seoul, at which it successfully presented development issues, is trying to play an increasing role in helping less developed countries, to go hand-in-hand with its rising international status.
And the RDA, a state body under the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, is aiming to be at the forefront of the effort.
Indeed, the programs run by the RDA have been assessed as effectively promoting Korea as an international donor. In a recent government assessment on international programs run by 39 state agencies, the RDA won the top spot.
“There are many areas in which Korea could help develop less affluent countries,” said Na Seung-yeol, director general of the technical cooperation bureau of the RDA. “But food, as many global experts agree, is the most urgent issue in international aid and the RDA, with its specialty in agriculture, is confident that it can provide crucial help from Korea.”
The RDA has 10 overseas bases in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Named the Korean Project for International Agriculture Center (Kopia), the bases provide technical or agricultural help to the countries they are based in.
The RDA also created two multilateral conference bodies in Africa and in Asia, through which it is implementing various cooperative projects with countries on the two continents.
Among them, the Asian Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative, or Afaci, had its first summit in April in the Philippines, where 12 member countries agreed on various projects. Two of the projects cover the entire Asian region, including building a network for agricultural technological information about Asia. The others are designed for each member country, such as development of major crops and technology consulting for Bangladesh, conservation and utilization of genetic sources of food for Nepal and postharvest management of fruits and vegetables for Sri Lanka.
So far, around 3,700 people from 116 countries have come to Korea since 1972 on an RDA program supported by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica).
According to director general Na, Cambodia’s vice prime minister, a Thai lawmaker and the Sri Lankan deputy agricultural minister were among the trainees of the RDA program.
“If they come here for training, we try to train them with care. So, by the time they go back home, many of them become a fan of Korea,” Na said. “Seven countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines, even have an RDA alumni association comprised of those who have taken the RDA program.”
The RDA also invites experts from several countries on a long-term basis. Mauricio Antonio Lopes, an agricultural scientist from Brazil, has been working at the RDA since October 2009 under an exchange program with Embrapa, or the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation.
Lopes said the RDA is doing enough work that it can represent Korea’s international contribution in the agricultural sector.
“Afaci and Kafaci are, from what I can perceive, definitely designed by the RDA to play a really important role in critical issues, by having knowledge and achieving a certain level of capacity, and playing the role of supporting international programs and activities to deal with pressing problems, especially food security,” he said.
Cho of the RDA, has opened a second-chapter of his life in Vietnam. After retiring from the RDA in August 2009, he moved to Hanoi to head the Kopia center there. The center has only 13 staff members and takes up a tiny space in the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Science.
But Cho said scientists are eager to learn from the Koreans. The center, for instance, is collaborating with the Vietnamese on bio-energy plants and premium vegetables, he said.
By Moon Gwang-lip [email@example.com]