Compared with the industrial sector, KOREAN agriculture is less developed, with small farms , aged farm population, low productivity, and underdeveloped marketing structure. Therefore, the agricultural sector is highly dependent on government support and intervention.
Rice is the dominant crop, accounting for about 31 percent of the total agricultural production value, and 51 percent of the total area cultivated in 1996. Rice consumption per capita, at around 120.4kg in 1997, has fallen from its peak of 136kg in 1970, and remains at a significantly higher level compared to other Asian countries.
Agricultural output has increased greatly as a result of productivity gains which have been derived mainly from high-yielding variety seeds and increased investment in the agricultural sector. Despite the dominance of rice, rising income and population growth have created increased demand for livestock products, vegetables and fruits. Because of the dominance of rice production and barley, corn, and soybean production, policies pertaining to food grains have been central to agricultural policy.
Most farmers still live on the income generated mainly from rice and a number of other crops. Korean farmers cultivate a variety of other crops including barley, pulses, potatoes, apples, pears, Chinese cabbage, onions, and red-pepper. Agriculture has become very intensive with respect to its use of input such a fertilizers, pesticides and machinery. Average farm household incomes are below the average level of the urban incomes although rural living conditions have improved significantly.
As a result of government attention and investments focused on the industrial sector, the gap between the rural and urban sectors widened at a steady pace and infrastructure, educational facilities, and medical services in rural areas are far inferior to those in urban areas.
Over the past decades, agricultural policy orientation has been aimed at maintaining a high degree of self-sufficiency. Korea has become almost self-sufficient in major staple food crops such as rice. However, due to increased demand for other food such as beef and processed food, Korea has imported large quantities of agricultural products.
Korean agricultural imports increased by almost 50 percent from 5,425 million dollars in 1994 to 8,152 million dollars in 1996. These facts must be seen in relation to the enormous socio-political unrests in Korea which occurred at the time of the final stage of the Uruguay Round negotiations.
There is growing demand from both domestic consumers and policymakers, and the major trading partners for changes in KoreaÂ¡Â¯s agricultural policy. The Korean government is moving toward new directions for agricultural policy, faced with the difficulties of adjusting to market opening, a rapid decrease in and aging of the agricultural labor force, frequent natural disaster and price fluctuation. A series of agricultural policy reform is aimed at preparing the sector to compete in world markets and to proceed to a more advanced sector. This and other changes mean that the Korean agriculture sector is in transition and it is becoming more market-oriented, although the pace is gradual.