A total of 250 out of 300 households in Seonwon-myeon, Ganghwa-gun, Incheon decided to grow lotus instead of rice in its rice paddies starting this year.
In the wake of the rice market opening and a halt in the governments purchase of rice, leaders and farmers have had concerns on the prospects of rice farming. Eventually, after observing a seven-year experiment by a nearby temple, Seonwonsa, the towns made a decision to stop rice farming.
Consequently, farmers of the towns are plating lotus roots in rice paddies covering 500,000 pyong and planning to ask the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry for funds to build lotus farms.
Seonwonsa, which is a benchmark of this project, has produced processed products such as organic lotus roots, lotus tea, lotus liquor, and lotus noodle since the temple started planting lotus in the rice paddies amounting to 5,000 pyong starting in 1998.
Moreover, by raising fish like carp, eels, catfish, and pond snails in the paddies, the temple earns additional profits. It holds a lotus festival in July, which is an exciting festival for the towns.
With lotus farming, farmers can secure 10 times the profits of rice farming. said the chief priest of the temple, Seonwonsa. By the request of farmers of Yong-in city and Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi province, and Yangyang county of Gangwon province, the temple provided them with free lotus seeds.
There are an increasing number of farmers replacing rice with other highly profitable crops nationwide. Gyeongbuk and Chungnam province strongly recommend farmers plant beans in rice paddies because domestic beans have gained popularity with growing numbers of health-conscious people. The recommendation was well received by farmers as planting beans requires less labor but generates higher profits.
Gyeongbuk province saw a 26 percent increase in bean planting, from 12,870ha in 2003 to 16,206ha in 2004. Chungnam also saw that area expand from 164ha in 2003 to 238ha in 2004.
Paprika, an export item to Japan, is also popular as a substitute for rice among farmers. Gyeongnam province alone exported $21.53 million worth of paprika last year.
Jeonnam province is actively promoting ginseng as a profitable substitute for rice, and bokbunja is taking the place of rice in Jangseong county of the province.
Last year, 100 union members of five districts, including Baekyangsa and Jangseong, planted bokbunja in 50,000 pyong of rice paddies, earning 400 million in profits.
Some farmers in Cheongwon and Okcheon county of Chungbuk province, and Hampyeong and Haenam county of Jeonnam, have produced vegetables and fruits that are high in sugar by using natural fertilizer containing silicon.
Park Jeong-gi, who produces the fertilizer, said, Even after rice is replaced with other crops, there remains concern over recovering the fertility of the paddies that are polluted with agricultural chemicals.
Rice Marketing Opening and the Suspension of the Governments Purchase of Rice-
The Korean government has purchased rice to secure the profits of rice farmers in the past. However, it will suspend these purchases starting this year. However, the plan to pay the difference between the current market price (170,000 won per 80 Kg sack) and the price after the opening of the market is being considered.
Rice imports will increase by 0.5 percent annually. In addition, Korea is required to increase its amount of rice imports to eight percent of domestic consumption (five million tons a year) by 2014. A total of 10 percent of the imported rice will be marketed for table use from September this year.