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Farms picked as model of ‘creative economy’

Posted April. 23, 2013 06:09,   


Barley fields with full of green sprouts looked as extensive as green meadows on Saturday morning when the reporter visited a farm field at the township of Gongeum in Gochang County, North Jeolla Province. Tourists visiting the rural area from early in the morning were busy taking photos as if completely disregarding drizzling spring rain.

Gochang County has been attracting 300,000 to 500,000 tourists every year since 2004 thanks to the "Green Barley Festival.” The festival has generated annual economic effect worth over 20 billion won (17.9 million U.S. dollars). There is a secret to how Gochang County, a small municipality with only 60,000 residents, has drawn such a large number of tourists. This was possible because the county realized “creative economy," in which agriculture and tourism (service industry) has been integrated to generate added value.

Gochang is so conducive an area to barley cultivation that it is nicknamed “Moyang,” meaning an “area where barley grows briskly." Due to Korea`s rapid economic growth, barley consumption significantly declined and farmers gave up barley farming in Korea, along with the long-gone “Boritgogae," severe shortage of food in spring ahead of barley harvest, and an abundant supply of food.

Nevertheless, people, who overcame Boritgogae while earnestly waiting for ripening of barley, still have the memories from the era of difficult economic times. The Gochang county office seeking a strategy to revive the local economy has found barley fields as a “new growth engine.” In the beginning, Gochang County provided farmers with “subsidies for landscaping-purpose barley farming” to encourage barley farming, and in 2004, started to hold a festival to attract tourists. The organizers of the festival was able to save marketing costs by skipping unnecessary events such as inviting celebrities, only requiring an annual budget of 100 million won (89,400 dollars).

The efforts have proved to be a huge success. As stories spread that the spring scenery of barley fields in Gochang is as beautiful as “Alps Mountains,” tourists from all over the country are flocking to the area en masse. Realizing that barley cultivation is lucrative, farmers are eager to cultivate barley. As a result, the barley farming areas in the county now amounts to nearly 1 million square meters.

After taking his first official tour to an agricultural administration site Saturday since his inauguration, Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Lee Dong-pil said, “I believe other rural areas can also create a model of creative economy by combining industry convergence and government subsidies.”

Doore Farm at the township of Bibong in Wanju County, North Jeolla Province is also considered a “rural creative economy.” Doore Farm is a kind of “social enterprises” in that it was established in 2009 with investment by the local government. The Wanju county office invested a total of 2.8 billion won (2.5 million U.S. dollars) over the past four years to expand the farm at 10 locations. Doore hired senior residents in rural villages so that they can work and earn money.

Since the establishment of the farm, as many as 132 jobs have been created since 2009 in Wanju County alone. Elderly people who used to stay at home due to lack of jobs are now working at the farms, and the farms’ annual sales have exceeded a combined 400 million won (357,000 dollars). “As senior citizens have regained self-confidence while working at farms, labor productivity has significantly improved as well,” said Lim Jeong-yeop, the governor of the Wanju County. “I have realized that the best ‘productive welfare’ is creating jobs.”