Saturday, July 28, 2012
Korean farmers are subsidized by the government, which means they can make a decent living but only with this help from the government. But the movement toward free trade continues, which is beneficial for the cities and big business but not for the farmers. How long will this last? There is no way of knowing for certain. The international price of rice is much cheaper now than Korean rice, and without the tariffs, the rice farmers can't compete.
As a result, many farmers fear the worse and are beginning to grow other crops in their paddy fields. They are now fearful of free trade with China, which would bring an influx of cheap vegetables and fruit from China, where labor and land prices are cheaper than in Korea.
The U.S.-Korea trade agreement has been signed, but an even greater and more traumatic situation would be free trade with China, because they are so close. The Catholic Church has worked to help the farmers with the "Save Our Farmland Movement," by setting up cooperatives, by offering help in marketing their produce to city dwellers, and by getting them started in organic farming. The editorial in the Korean Times mentions the message of the bishop, president of the Peace and Justice Committee of the Bishops' Conference. The third Sunday of July was Farmers' Day Sunday, a way the Church keeps the Christians aware of farm problems. The disparity of the income of farmers compared to city dwellers is increasing, and without efforts to stem the tide this will only increase and force the farmers off the farms.
The government, as much as possible, needs to keep all the citizens happy, which is no easy task. But the effort to keep the farmers on their farms would be good for the whole country. In the message to the Catholics on Farmers' Day, the bishop urged us to remember the early Christians and to strive for a similar humane and community life-style, especially to strive for solidarity with those on the farms. "We are all silently cultivating the land," he said. "Let us all learn from the farmers the value of life, labor, and the simple life-style."
It's not a case of helping only the farmers; we are helping ourselves as well. We are all one. We will all have the same future as the farmers if they abandon the land. We will all suffer, not only the farmers. Consumers and producers must begin now to reach out to each other and seek for mutually beneficial solutions to this serious problem.