How to revive the Korean ginseng industry

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How to revive the Korean ginseng industry

Korea’s ginseng industry is in a crisis. The farmland is diminishing, farmers are getting old and the costs of material and labor are going up, jeopardizing the production of ginseng. Repeated cultivation of ginseng drastically reduced its yield, and ginseng farmers need to find fresh land where ginseng was never planted before. Therefore, securing arable lands is the most pressing task. However, the average leasing price for 3.3 square meters (35.5 square feet) of land is about 3,000 won ($2.80), so producing six-year-old ginseng from a 330,000-square-meter field cost about 10.8 billion won. The leasing price is translated into the production cost, lowering price competitiveness of Korean ginseng.

In order to resolve the challenges, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Korea Rural Community Corporation and the Korea Forest Service may want to consider developing parts of forest lands, which make up 63 percent of Korea’s territory, in each region as production bases and lease the plots to farmers. The forest assets are only perceived in terms of environmental issues, but we can change the perspective and utilize them as industrial bases.

Secondly, wood-cultivated ginseng can be planted in natural settings, and the environmentally friendly, pollution-free, organic white and red ginseng products should be exported to the world market. The wood-cultivated ginseng is controlled as a forest product, according to the Forestry and Mountain Villages Development Promotion Act, but it should be transferred to the Ginseng Industry Act to be treated as a ginseng variety.

Only then, cultivation and breeding are managed transparently, and standards for products using wood-cultivated ginseng can be prepared in the Food Safety Act and the Health and Functional Foods Act, which are controlled by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. When related products are manufactured, marketed and consumed, farmers, processing companies and consumers will have greater choices, and the market size would grow as well.

The size of the worldwide herb market is $200 billion, and the global ginseng market is $20 billion. However, Korea’s ginseng export was merely $150 million in 2012. Switzerland does not produce a single root of ginseng, but the sales revenue of Pharmaton’s ginseng product Ginsana was $300 million. When the total ginseng export of Korea is half of a single ginseng product by a global pharmaceutical company, can we really say Korea is the origin of ginseng? As a strategy to boost the industry, we can convert some of the forest lands, which make up 63 percent of Korea’s land, as foundation for ginseng farming.

Goryeo Ginseng was the first Korean brand that earned global recognition. We can save Korean ginseng and enhance international competitiveness of agricultural industries by developing the woodland.

By Shin Wang-su, President of Korea Ginseng Research and a director of the Korea Ginseng Federation
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