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Gender and Land Rights Database

Republic of Korea

In 2007, the population was estimated at 48.45 million, of which 50 percent were women. Population density was 498 people per square kilometre (1). In 2005, 18.5 percent of the total population lived in rural areas; women accounted for 50.37 percent of the rural population (2). The aging rural population is constantly increasing and the share of people over 60 years old went from 10.5 percent in 1980 to 40.3 percent in 2004 (3).

In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was US$969.9 billion (1), while the per capita GDP was US$24 801 (4). In 2006, services contributed for 57.2 percent of GDP, industry and construction contributed for 30.5 percent and 9.1 percent respectively, while agriculture, forestry and fishing contributed for 3.2 percent (5). The share of agriculture in GDP has fallen from 8.9 percent in 1990 to 3.3 percent in 2005 (7) and the agricultural labour force has declined from 18 percent to 7.2 percent over the same period (6). The number of farmers decreased from 4.0 million in 2000 to 3.4 million in 2005, at an annual reduction rate above 3 percent (8). Rice production comprises 27.6 percent of the total agricultural production (3) and is a major factor source of agricultural income (7). Most farmers live on an income generated for about 50 percent from rice and for another 50 percent by a number of other crops, such as barley, potatoes, apples, Chinese cabbage, onions, and red-peppers (8). Since the 1980s, most rice farming areas have been mechanized, due to an increased availability of major farm machineries such as farm tractor, combine and controller while farming for upland crops has remained low in terms of mechanization rate (7).

With a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.928 in 2006, the country ranks 25th out of 179 countries (9). In 1998, 2 percent of the population lived under the US$1 per day poverty line (10). Life expectancy at birth was estimated at 82.4 years for women and 75.7 years for men in 2006. The adult literacy rate in 2007 was 99.9 percent for both men and women (11).

Fifty-two percent of the female population was economically active in 2005 (12). Of the total female workers, 9.2 percent were employed in the farming or fishing industry in 2004, with a 6.2 decrease from the previous year (13). Nonetheless, in 2006, female farmers accounted for 52 percent of the total number of agricultural family labourers. Family labourers are 80 percent of all workers engaged in agriculture (14). Furthermore, women farmers were responsible for 45 percent of the total labour hours spent on family farms in 2006 (14), working on the average nearly two hours a day more than men (15). However, in most cases, women are not recognised the legal status of farmers (18) and their work for the family farming business is usually unpaid (15).

In 1950, a major land reform changed the traditional feudal land tenure system into to a small holders’ ownership based land tenure system. The government bought all land owned by non-farmers and sold it to small farmers who could pay it back over a period of time, in the form of a percentage of their annual crop. Farmland was distributed evenly among all tenants. However, based on the principle that only farmers should be allowed to own farmland, the government limited the maximum size of farmland that could be owned to 3 ha per farming household. Thus, agriculture has been characterized as a small size, family members conducted, farming. In recent years, the government has started easing the law on farmland possession (7) and the number of farm households with more than 3 ha has gone from 6.3 percent in 2000 to 7.4 percent in 2005 (16).  However, almost two-thirds of total farms have less than 1 ha of arable land and about one-third of total farms have less than 0.5 ha of farmland. In 2004, the average farm land was 1.48 ha and farms cultivating more than 2.0 ha accounted for only 14 percent of the total (17).

Although women are responsible for half of the country’s agricultural production, their ownership ratio is less than 2 percent (18).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography