SEOUL, KOREA - “We are aiming to boost the agricultural industry and farmers’ income by helping them produce and sell high quality crops,” the Rural Development Administration’s administrator Lee Yang-ho said.
The RDA is the central government organization responsible for extensive agricultural research and services in Korea. In the past, it helped the nation achieve self-sufficiency in rice production and other staple foods through the dissemination and promotion of high-yielding cultivars and improved cropping technologies.
Today, its efforts are directed towards highly competitive agriculture and efficient rural development. It endeavors to support farmers to produce better quality agricultural commodities, advancing low-input, labor-saving and environment-friendly cropping technologies in a bid to promote modern and automated production facilities and nurture future farmers. Korea IT Times sat down with the Administrator of the RDA, Lee Yang-ho to listen to its recent efforts to boost the agricultural industry with high technology as well as various overseas projects.
Q. The Rural Development Administration has recently announced the third long-tem master plan to foster agriculture and biotechnology. Can you tell us the details
It is a revised plan for the second Bio-Vision in 2016 in response to the emergence of bio economy and the development of biotechnology at home and abroad. The plan presents three main goals - securing technological competitiveness for the future agricultural growth engine, promoting a knowledge-based agricultural industry, and fostering relevant professionals to create jobs.
Its main research focus will be genome analysis, convergence technology of nano and information technology, material development for food and drug, eco-friendly crop protecting, and low-energy technology.
Through the plan, we are expecting to raise the nation’s technology competitiveness to fourth place in the global ranking. We plan to invest a total of 656.7 billion won from 2013 to 2017 with a goal of 400 percent growth in total production through research and development investments.
Q. What are some of the RDA’s information communications technology and biotechnology convergence projects
Korea’s agriculture is now creating new value through various cutting edge convergence technologies in information communications technology and biotechnology.
By applying information communications technology to agriculture, we are promoting automation and precision. We have developed a standardization manual and management model for an artificial lighting plant factory, and a light weight green house for reclaimed land as well as other automation technology for facilities.
The RDA has also developed system to control gardening facilities through smartphones which monitors climate as well as controls temperature and humidity.
As for bio technology, we have developed and commercialized original technologies of agricultural biotechnology. We have decoded six types of genomes including chrysanthemum, pigs, chicken, and black goat and developed twenty types of useful genes. The six ministries including the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs have jointly analyzed genomes from 2014 to 2021 with 578.8 billion won in investment in a bid to improve new seeds.
Q. Can you tell us the world’s first project of using bio energy from flame grass
The massive pilot complex using flame grass for bio energy was completed in 2009, and we plan to produce 3,000 to 4,000 tons of crops every year starting in 2014.
At this moment, the complex is capable of producing 15 liters of anhydrous ethanol with 100kg of flame grass per day, and it aims to extract over 200 liters of ethanol per 1 ton of flame grass.
By harvesting the dry stem of flame grass to produce bio ethanol, the 148 hectare pilot complex is capable of producing 600,000 to 800,000 liters every year which amounts to 1.2 to 1.6 billion won.
If the growing area is expanded to 5,000 hectare, it expects to produce 20 million to 30 million liter of bio ethanol. Currently the complex is capable to fuel 4,000 cars for at least 100 days.
This project, the first of its kind in the world, is currently producing half of its mass production in terms of technical and economic feasibility.
Q. What are the best practices of overcoming the aging issues among agriculture workers
Today, Korea’s agricultural industry is losing its vigor because of stagnation in agriculture income and an aging population in rural areas. In order to boost agricultural value and invigorate the industry, agriculture should be connected with other industries such as processing, distribution, and tourism.
Centering on agriculture, the region’s culture, tradition, and resources can be utilized to create various business models. The Schizandra Cluster in Mungyeong city, North Gyeongsang Province can be a good example. With the support from theAgricultureTechnologyCenter, the region has changed from 300 farming households generating 4 billion won in 2005 to 1,050 households earning 89.5 billion won in 2012.
We are making efforts to realize the creative economy by producing new business model together with new ideas, cutting-edge technologies and creativity. Sericulture is now creating new market through the convergence of technologies. For instance, the silk industry has been emerging as functional bio industry for food, cosmetics, artificial eardrums, and artificial bones. This industry saw 65 billion won in sales last year.
Imsil Cheese village is also a good example. Out of 225 residents, 84 people, or 37.3 percent of total residents, work for village experience centers or in food sales which are not considered agriculture.
Q. What are the projects of overseas agricultural technology training programs
There are many countries which want to learn from Korea’s agricultural industries and technologies. We have provided education programs, such as Korea Project on International Agriculture, to other countries since 2009. Currently, the center is run in 16 countries includingVietnam,Myanmar, thePhilippines,Cambodia, andThailand. This is expected to be expanded to 20 countries by this year.
We have been helping developing nations by dispatching RDA’s employees through KOPIA, Asian Food & Agriculture Cooperation Initiative, and the Korea-Africa Food & Agriculture Cooperation Initiative since 2009. This is an aim to support their agriculture in each stage. At the first stage, we are developing the best technologies through cooperation businesses, and at the second stage, we are demonstrating the technologies at some villages. After the technologies are proven, we are applying them to the local agricultural policies.
We will continue to make efforts to provide useful and constant support in close cooperation with partner countries.