Sunday, July 14, 2013

Spearheading South Korean 'hallyu' through agriculture


By Lee Hyo-sik
Original Source :


RDA transfers Korea’s agricultural knowhow to developing world

Lee Yang-ho, Administrator of the Rural Development Administration
When people hear “hallyu,” the Korean cultural wave, they usually think it has something to do with Korean films or pop music.

But the Rural Development Administration (RDA), the state-run agricultural research institute, has been promoting a more comprehensive meaning of hallyu abroad over the years.

Specifically, RDA has been sharing its advanced agricultural knowledge and knowhow with developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America to help them boost crop production and diversify farm products. The institute, founded in 1906, is headquartered in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, and operates four research affiliates specializing in crops, horticulture, herbs and livestock, respectively.

RDA invites hundreds of government officials and students from dozens of developing countries each year to come to Korea and to participate in educational courses on agriculture.

It has also dispatched its employees overseas to help developing nations boost agricultural production and protect crops from pests or diseases.

In an interview with The Korea Times, RDA Administrator Lee Yang-ho said the state-funded institute will step up its efforts to share its extensive knowhow on agricultural science and technology by working with more developing nations.

“On June 25, I arrived in Uganda after a 20-hour flight from Korea. I saw firsthand how dire the situation is in the African country,” Lee said. “Uganda’s agricultural sector badly needs a full-scale makeover in order to feed its population of 35 million. We have many things to do there.”

Until 1965, the African nation was better off than Korea, according to Lee. Now he feels it is pointless to compare the two countries.

“It feels like Uganda has not moved forward for many years. It desperately wants to learn about Korea’s advanced agricultural science and knowhow,” the administrator said. “We will extend full support to one of the world’s poorest countries.”

While in Uganda, Lee signed an agreement with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to set up a Korea Project on International Agriculture (KOPIA) center in the country by the end of 2013.

“President Museveni asked me to send RDA employees to his country to help develop its agricultural industry. We have actively responded to his call and will do everything we can to assist Uganda.”

In May, Museveni visited the RDA headquarters and toured its research facilities. He expressed a desire to learn more about Korea’s agricultural knowhow during a meeting with Lee.

“Museveni visited North Korea three times. But he knows there is nothing to learn from the communist state, which suffers from a severe food shortage,” Lee said. “Uganda wants to benchmark Korea to move forward its agricultural and other industries.”

He said the African nation, slightly larger than the entire Korean Peninsula, has more arable farmlands, but its crop production is much smaller than Korea’s.

“The size of Uganda’s arable land is much larger than that of Korea. But its land produces less than ours due to outdated cultivation skills and lack of fertilizers, among others,” Lee said.

“They do not know how to efficiently store crops after harvest. So, the significant portion of harvested crops goes to waste. They do not know how to control diseases and pests either.”

He said things will start improving in Uganda when a KOPIA center is set up and goes into operation.

A Rural Development Administration (RDA) researcher shows government officials from African nations how to operate an irrigation facility inside a greenhouse at the RDA headquarters in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, in this file photo. / Courtesy of Rural Development Administration

Establishing more overseas offices

The state-funded agricultural research institute has set up and operates KOPIA centers in 15 developing countries, including Vietnam, Kenya, Brazil and Myanmar. It spent 7.3 billion won ($6.6 million) in 2012 to manage the centers, each of which has 11 RDA employees all year around.

They provide on-the-spot, tailor-made technical assistance, undertake joint research activities with host countries and offer training programs. “We first established KOPIA centers in five nations in 2009. The number has increased to 15. Through the facilities, we have given a wide range of technical assistance to farmers and agriculture industry officials in these countries,” Lee said.

RDA undertook a project to boost vegetable production in Vietnam. In Algeria, local farmers learned from a KOPIA center about how to cultivate seed potatoes, while farmers in Kenya were taught to cultivate rice.

In Africa, the institute currently operates centers in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Algeria and Ethiopia. “By the end of this year, we will set up our fifth African KOPIA center in Uganda. We will also establish presence in Peru this year,” Lee said. “By the year’s end, we would like to increase the number of overseas cetners to 20.”

Initiatives for Asia and Africa

The institute has launched two multilateral initiatives for Asia and Africa in a bid to offer more locally-suited assistance. It plans to kick off a third one for South America.

“We launched the Asian Food & Agriculture Cooperation Initiative (AFACI) in November 2009 in cooperation with 10 Asian countries in an attempt to boost agricultural productivity across the region. We have transferred techniques and knowhow to our Asian counterparts to help them boost yields and achieve a sustainable agricultural industry,” Kim said.

The countries AFACI has helped include the Philippines, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand.

In July 2010, RDA also started the Korea-Africa Food & Agriculture Cooperation Initative (KAFACI) to further boost cooperation with 17 African nations, including Cameroon, Ethiopia and Uganda. The institute has been offering knowhow on how to effectively deal with diseases and pests affecting rice and other crops. It has also transferred a wide range of agricultural techniques to increase production.

Lee said Korea has emerged as a role model for many emerging economies across the globe for its successful rural development over the years, adding the institute has built a win-win system with its counterparts in developing nations.

Training public officials from developing world

RDA has helped raise Korea’s profile abroad as a leading agricultural nation, Lee said, stressing that it created a human network of government officials and opinion leaders in host nations, who view Korea favorably. Nearly 43,000 people from 117 countries have participated in RDA training programs from 1972 to 2012.

Those who took part in its educational courses have formed an alumni network after returning home. Alumni associations have been set up in seven countries, including Indonesia and Thailand.

“The favorable sentiment toward Korea will definitely help expand business opportunities for us and private agricultural firms here when securing overseas farms and exporting products. We will continue to boost cooperation with developing nations in the field of agriculture,” Lee said.

Learning from Israel

The administrator then talked about Israel’s agricultural industry, saying that Korea needs to learn more from the Middle Eastern nation.

“After visiting Uganda, I went to Israel. The ‘creative economy’ is a buzz word in Korea these days and many say we should model our venture industry after Israel’s. I think Korea’s agricultural sector should also study Israel’s and learn from it,” he said.

Most of the Israeli territory is desert, Lee said. “But it cultivates peanuts, sweet potatoes and other produce, and exports them to Europe. This is because the country has developed and uses state-of-the-art technologies to produce drought-and pest-resistant breeds. It also recycles used residential water for agricultural use.”

Israel has also expanded its knowhow on the storage of harvests so that it can ship a variety of produce to Europe.

“Korea should benchmark Israel. It needs to invest more to come up with more advanced cultivation methods in line with increasing climate changes. In particular, we need to develop better ways to store farm products longer,” he said.

When asked about the possible Korea-China free trade agreement and its impact on the local farmers, Lee said the accord has both pros and cons.

“Obviously, farmers that produce rice, onion, garlic and other general crops will likely be hit by the surging imports of cheaper Chinese produces,” he said.

“But at the same time, we can target wealthy Chinese consumers who are willing to pay more for high-quality and safe farm products. I think we can export milk, baby formula and other raw and processed products, which Chinese consumers view as safe.”

Lee also said RDA will continue its research on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“One of our seven main research projects is about GMOs. We cannot just sit idle while the United States and other countries move forward in the field,” Lee said. “For now, we will only do research and have no plans to commercialize genetically-engineered products. For the commercialization of GMO products, we need public consensus.”

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