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[Op-Ed] Rice Planting and Nonghyup`s Reform

Posted May. 27, 2009 09:02,   


Former President Park Chung-hee in the 1960s helped farmers in person around rice planting season. Wearing a straw hat, Park used to sit down with farmers on a ridge between rice fields and drank the rice wine makgeolli. Calling himself a farmer’s son, he dressed like a farmer. His humble appearance comforted poor farmers in the 60s. His charisma emanating from his image as “a farmers’ president” greatly contributed to the success of the Saemaeul Movement, a national campaign to develop rural communities, and agricultural reform.

For no specific reason, however, Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun did not join rice planting events. President Lee Myung-bak last week became the first president in 12 years to plant rice seedlings. While planting seedlings at a rice paddy in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, he told Choi Won-byeong, president of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, or Nonghyup, “Nonghyup must serve farmers.” With this comment, President Lee asked Choi to reform the organization on its own initiative and prevent grievances from farmers.

This is not the first time for President Lee to stress reform at Nonghyup. At an agro-fisheries market in Seoul Dec. 4 last year, he said, “Nonghyup is wasting trillions of won (billions of U.S. dollars) that it earned through financial businesses,” adding, “Nonghyup officials should rack their brains on how to use money for farmers.” When he visited New Zealand in March, he emphasized the importance of Nonghyup’s reform, saying, “New Zealand achieved an agricultural revolution without government subsidies.” President Lee also ordered accompanying Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Chang Tae-pyong to carry out comprehensive reform.

Despite the president’s constant urging, Nonghyup has yet to carry out full-fledged reform. Choi, who was told by President Lee to reform the organization at the rice paddy, said Friday, “Nonghyup is not a government organization,” adding, “We will take time and reform our organization on our own accord.” This comment runs counter to the government`s plan to finish Nonghyup’s reform by year’s end. Choi said, “To reform the organization by 2017, we need to save 17 trillion won (13 billion dollars) but we lack 10 trillion won (7.9 billion dollars).” Nobody can say for sure that the reform will happen eight years later. If the agriculture minister lacks the power to enforce the reform, the president should weigh in on the matter. President Lee deserves praise for helping rice planting, but what he must urgently do is to help farmers by reforming Nonghyup.

Editorial Writer Park Yeong-kyun (parkyk@donga.com)