Seoul (AsiaNews) Speaking on the 10th Farmers Sunday held this July 17, Mgr Boniface Choi Ki-san, chairman of the Committee for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea, made a plea on behalf of the country's farmers.
"We ask the members of the National Assembly and the government," he said, "to make a sincere effort in the areas of national security, the environment and health care and abandon market-oriented policies in agriculture that have reduced rice cultivation".
In his messagetitled . . . and my Father is the vine grower (John, 15: 1), the prelate further said: "We have to have more concern and support for the 'Save Our Farmers Movement'. It is trying to preserve the order of creation and make the urban-rural community cooperation movement a church-wide one".
Bishop Choi Ki-san said that nowadays rural communities and agriculture are facing a serious crisis, despite efforts by the Church to save farmers.
He warned that "rural communities in Korea won't survive total market competition if cheaper foreign rice is allowed in thanks to the WTO responding affirmatively to foreign exporters' demands for open markets across the board".
He said that the "Church cannot but take the initiative to solve the problems of the farmers who are the suffering and marginalized people of God of our age"
The government and lawmakers should legally base policies on the so-called 'Self-sustenance Standard' for safe production and food supply, which would stabilize rural incomes and increase the farming population so that the small and medium size family-based rural communities could do their job without anxiety."
Bishop Choi Ki-san ended his message by saying that "rural communities and ourselves can be saved if cities economically support the countryside," adding that the "Church would continue to expand its effort to save agriculture and rural communities."
According to the World Bank, agriculture represented 3.6 per cent of South Korea's GNP in 2003 compared to 36.4 per cent for industry and 60 per cent for the service sector.
Although declining in importance, agriculture concerns 9 per cent of the population or 4 million people out of 46 million.
Government policy is designed to increase the efficiency of the farming sector by promoting consolidation and early retirements.
Overall, South Korea imports 70 per cent of its food needs.