Saturday, January 4, 2014

Farmers of Korea

Agriculture, the world's largest industry, employs more workers than any other industry but rarely gets recognition for its importance to the human family. The pope, in his peace message for the New Year, recognized the contributions of farmers to the common good: "In a particular way, the agricultural sector is the primary productive sector, with the crucial vocation of cultivating and protecting natural resources in order to feed humanity."

Agricultural policies in Korea, however, have routinely sacrificed farmers’ interests and provoked protests from the farmers, including farmers represented by the organic farming movement, which was begun by the Catholic Farmers’ Movement in the late 1970s. The movement has done much to promote the concerns and interests of farmers, but not without a great deal of difficulty. One of the problems having to do with consumer issues was written up recently in the Peace Weekly.

The journalist begins by noting the words he heard from a farmer. "When we have a bumper crop we worry, when we have a bad year we worry." Whether it's a good harvest, meaning more competition and lower prices, or a bad harvest, meaning less crops and, despite the higher prices, less total income, the net result is the same: hardship for the farmer. Farming is not only hard work but there is the anxiety that is always there because of the many variables in the life of a farmer. 
This year the crop for winter cabbage and turnips was better than expected. (Cabbage and turnips are important for kimchi, a traditional fermented Korean side dish, made from cabbage and other vegetables with a variety of seasonings). Cabbage was 18.3 percent better than the previous year, and turnips saw an increase of  27.8 percent.  Cabbage did well because there was more land available for planting the cabbage this year and the weather was favorable. But with the bumper crop the market was flooded and prices dropped.  The price of cabbage last year was three times what it was in 2011, which induced the farmers to plant more cabbage, only to be disappointed when the prices dropped drastically. 

The apple and pear harvests this year also were excellent. The apple harvest increased 25.1 percent, the pear harvest 63 percent. The bean harvest was 25.7 percent better than the previous year. This also means it was not a good year for farm income. When prices are so deflated, there are farmers who won't harvest their crops.

How to determine the best time to market their produce to get a higher price is one of the concerns of farmers.  This would also be true for some fruits and for crops like sweet potatoes; they would fetch a better price during the winter months. 

The journalist ends the article by asking the consumer to be more sympathetic to the plight of the farmer. One way this can be accomplished is to market directly from producer to consumer--as is done in farmers markets--which assures the consumer of getting produce that can be trusted. The government also has to help by keeping the farmers on the farm, and not be concerned only with big business.  There  are many intangibles that must be considered if a solution to this issue is to be found, otherwise they will be overlooked when interest is unwisely focused only on the big companies, causing many farmers to leave their farms, as is happening too frequently here in Korea.

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