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Seoul to reduce rice production land

South Korea will continue to reduce its farming area for rice next year, the agriculture minister said Wednesday, despite earlier forecasts the country’s rice harvest this year will fall to the lowest level in 31 years.

The government “plans to reduce the area for rice farming by 40,000 hectares next year as planned,” Suh Kyu-yong, minister of food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, told reporters.

The remarks came only days after Statistics Korea said the country’s rice production will likely fall 1.9 percent from a year earlier to 4.21 million tons this year, the lowest since 1980 when bad weather conditions caused output to plunge to 3.55 million tons.

Such an outlook prompted calls for the government to reevaluate its ongoing scheme to gradually cut production of the staple grain, partly as a way of keeping prices up to help sustain millions of small farmers. (Yonhap News)

Suh said there was no need to have large harvests and that it was also uneconomical to do so, citing the country’s falling rice consumption.

“It costs about 62.6 billion won ($53.5 million) to store 200,000 tons of leftover rice each year, and when considering that we store leftovers for two to three years, the cost easily exceeds 100 billion won annually,” the minister said.

He added the government currently has 840,000 tons of rice stored for emergency use.

“We can serve two ends by farming some other crops or grains instead of rice on the 40,000 hectares of land,” he said.

South Korea has had to import more than 340,000 tons of rice this year alone under its negotiations with the World Trade Organization in 2004. The country also has to increase the volume by 20,000 tons every year despite a steady decline of its domestic consumption each year.

The country’s total domestic consumption is expected to fall to about 4.2 million tons this year as consumption per person is forecast to dip to between 71.2 kilograms to 71.6 kilograms, down from 93.6 kilograms only a decade ago. 

(Yonhap News)