Fellow Koreans and farmers,
Everyone has been working very hard this year. Farms might have suffered indescribable damage to a full range of crops – vegetables, flowers and fruit – due to school lunch programs being halted and other events impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as the unprecedented monsoon rains and typhoons.
The care of our farmers who have worked to restore flattened rice fields has greatly encouraged us to overcome COVID-19 and return to normal routines. I am deeply grateful to our farmers for having protected our agriculture and taken responsibility for feeding the country throughout this year.
This place where we are gathered functioned as the rear garden of Gyeongbokgung Palace during the Joseon period. There was once a small field here that the king cultivated personally. Its eight rice paddies served to predict the harvests to come from the eight provinces. It is very meaningful to celebrate this 25th Farmers’ Day by remembering the spirit of our forebears who regarded farming as the basis of their universe. Joseon monarchs sought to experience exhaustion from farming firsthand and carry out agricultural policies with a sympathetic concern for farmers. This mindset is something that we should maintain even in our time.
This year, our agricultural sector has increased exports and securely protected jobs as well. Amid the difficult global economy due to COVID-19, exports of kimchi and gochujang have soared nearly 40 percent from the previous year through October. The total for crop exports has surpassed US$ 6 billion. During the three years since 2017, 116,000 agriculture-related jobs have been added. Young people envisioning startups in farming communities and others turning to rural areas are infusing farming villages with vitality.
Our rice also contributes to saving lives. Each year, about 50,000 tons of rice aid is sent to Yemen, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to feed 3 million people through the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Today, the FAO Director General expressed amazement at how Korea’s agriculture has developed – the country has grown from a food aid recipient into the world’s ninth largest aid donor in just one generation. This precious achievement was accomplished by the 2.2 million farmers across the nation. I congratulate the honorees awarded today for their contributions to the advancement of agriculture. It is important to say that people are proud of the farmers who buttress our economy.
We are joined in particular today by young farmers and aspiring individuals with a talent for agriculture. I hope you firmly hold your parents’ hands –
hands that grew gnarled from cultivating the land. Likewise, the Government will always stand by you so that your dreams can be fully realized with pride in farming.
Fellow Koreans and farmers,
Agriculture is a key national industry linked to people’s lives, and farming communities constitute the foundation of our national community. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, we have come to sense the importance of natural ecosystems even more acutely and recognize the enormous potential of farming villages as foundations for living. To prepare for the post-COVID-19 era, we will boldly carry out agricultural policies befitting the new era. We will formulate plans for national food security and the ideal farm village to ensure that rural areas serve as key spaces for the Korean New Deal. Agriculture and farming communities will become a main driving force behind our sustainable future and a reliable buttress for our food security system.
The price of rice, which had fallen to levels recorded 20 years ago immediately prior to my inauguration, has regained stability now. A subsidy system for farmers that promotes the public good – the farming community’s long-sought wish – has been introduced, enabling them to receive benefits for both rice and dry-field farming. In particular, small and medium-sized farming households have received greater consideration in the rollout of the subsidy system. Going forward, we will develop subsidies to ensure that farming sustains ecological values and the environment.
We are also working to relieve the anxiety of farmers driven to tears by plunging produce prices. We are assisting the autonomous management of supply and demand by providing data on crop volume. Producers coordinating the supply and demand of onions and garlic on a trial basis and selling their yields through online wholesale transactions this year had the effect of stabilizing both supply and demand as well as prices. In the days to come, we will expand this system to cover the main fruit and vegetables, thereby benefitting both farmers and consumers.
The Government is striving to make farming villages ideal places where both the young and old can lead enjoyable lives. The number of neighborhood multi-purpose centers comprising libraries and sports facilities will be increased to 1,200 by 2025 from some 700 as of this year. We will also expand farming village regeneration projects to improve daily life and the resident-oriented surroundings. An integrated platform will be established to provide support for the entire process from the preparation to settlement of those who wish to move into farming villages. We will also devise a program from next year that allows people to experience farm life in advance.
Now, rural areas are being reborn as spaces for innovation. The project to train 1,600 young farmers every year helps grow future rural leaders. Smart farms will be expanded to 7,000 hectares by 2022. The autonomous tractor and rice-planting machine beside me right now are made with our own technology and are being exported. We will help elderly farmers engage in farming without much effort by using autonomous farming machines.
Preemptive responses have resulted in considerable achievements in livestock epidemic prevention and control. We have been able to prevent food-and-mouth disease and avian flu for a long while now and have successfully contained the spread of African swine fever. I express my special gratitude to local-level veterinary inspectors and epidemic prevention and control staff who have devoted themselves to our livestock farmers.
Food security can never be overemphasized. Wheat and bean self-sufficiency levels will be raised to 10 and 45 percent, respectively, by 2030. We will help expand the consumption of our traditional soy-based, fermented sauces as well as bean curd and wheat-processed goods while making efforts to improve varieties and technology for cultivation. We will also upgrade our ability to secure grain imports.
The Government will create a safe, self-sufficient system in which foods are produced and consumed locally. We will increase the number of farmers markets where produce can be sold directly to consumers. We will also increase the number of local governments participating in the national food plan from the current 67 to 100 by 2022. Moreover, we will endeavor to provide food-related support, so low-income households, pregnant women, students in pre- and afterschool care programs and senior citizens have access to a sufficient amount of fresh produce.
Fellow Koreans and farmers,
Rural areas are our eternal hometowns. Agriculture is our life, and farmers are our mothers and fathers. Protecting farming communities, agriculture and farmers can help us overcome any difficulty. In the same way that seeds sown grow into crops and trees, the Republic of Korea will be able to bear fruit and develop to the extent that all of us give more careful attention to agriculture.
Today, we signed a mutually beneficial agreement for urban and rural communities. It is the beginning of a national agricultural policy that collectively saves farming. With the conviction that our future relies on agriculture, we are certain to create – with the people and local areas – a country where rural communities are prosperous and farmers are proud.
A world where farmers are happy is a world where people are happy. Bapshim – the strength that rice provides – holds our potential to become a leading country in the post-COVID-19 era.