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[Opinion] "Venture" Farmers Create a New Industry

Posted November. 29, 2005 07:51,   


Min Myeong-won (53), a rough-handed farmer on Jeju Island, was deeply impressed by a small yet neat French inn during his trip to France more than a decade ago. He was also captivated by the scene of the owner of the inn socializing with the inn’s guests, grilling steak for them.

After visiting farming villages in Japan as well, Min opened Gyulimsung in Seogwipo, Jeju. Gyulimsung is the first leisure tourist resort in Korea and has its own tangerine farm. Its log rooms, traditional soybean paste and fresh vegetables and tangerine-gathering program lure urbanites. Gyulimsung receives more than 100,000 visitors per annum.

Whenever inland farmers hear Min’s success story, they grumble, “ Our village does not have a favorable tourism condition like that of Jeju.” Then, Min refutes them, saying, “You can cultivate carp or mudfish in your paddies,” adding, “Many farmers are reluctant to find a solution even though they abound.”

Min plans to build a park that has orchids growing from Jeju’s natural stones. The park will be open to paid visitors starting next year. Guests who stay in Gyulimsung can enjoy “warranty service” when they return home, as Min sends them tangerines he grows himself or e-mail.

What Min is doing is an example of “venture agriculture,” which is not often found in other countries. It is a result of an attempt to integrate not only tourism and leisure, but culture and art, information technology, and biotechnology to agriculture. Min Seung-gyu, a chief researcher at the Samsung Economic Research Institute, calls it a 1.5 industry--that is, it is a mix of agriculture (which is a primary industry) and manufacturing or service industry (two of which are secondary industries.). Venture agriculture is a creation of a new market by farmers who are genetically inclined to seek “passion, exploration, challenge, adventure and energy.” In doing so, these farmers do not turn to the government for help, but use a network. Though they may not be large-scale farming entrepreneurs or the world’s top farmers, they pursue “small but strong farming” methods.

A few days ago, about 1,000 Korean venture farmers adopted the “Declaration for Hope for Korean Agriculture” after a festival at the Venture Agriculture Forum in Kumsan, South Chungcheong Province. The forum is a two-day annual event. Participating farmers declared in the statement: “Let us develop agriculture into a driving force of the Korean economy by reducing our dependence on the government’s assistance and attracting consumers.” Researcher Min encouraged them, saying, “We should have a star in the agricultural sector just as we do in sports or companies.”

Farmers and government officials of Shizuoka, a Japanese village famous for high farming income, invited the Korean venture farmers to Japan to learn a lesson from them.

Hong Kwon-hee, Editorial Writer, konihong@donga.com