Research and technology Knowledge

Posted July 1996

Technology assessment and transfer
for sustainable agriculture and rural development
in the Asia-Pacific Region

Republic of Korea

by Yong-Hwa Shin and Jae-Duk Kim
Director General and Research Scientist
International technical Cooperation Centre
Rural Development Administration (RDA)
Suweon, Korea

1. Technology assessment for sustainable agriculture

Since the 1960s, Korea's agriculture has become a high-input agriculture, using large quantities of chemical fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals. Trends in the use of fertilizers and other chemicals were as follows:

196519701975198019851990
Fertilizer (kg/ha)
(As fertilizer elements)
113162282285311458
Total Agricultural Chemicals (tons)
(Active ingredients)
1,287-8,642-17,75826,610

Among other things, two factors mainly contributed to the rapid growth in the use of chemical inputs: the rapid migration of rural labour forces to other sectors along with the rapid industrialization, and the steady growth in the per capita consumption of some agricultural produce, particularly vegetables, fruits, and livestock produce. In the recent years, the call for sustainability of agriculture and environmental friendliness of agricultural practices has become louder. The relevance of these issues has been recognized by planners and researchers. However, as yet, the farmers' response has been very slow.

The majority of Korean farmers are still practising high-input agriculture, due to the current socio-economic conditions that do not force them to change their practices. Despite huge imports of cereals, the demand for major cash crops is increasing and rural labour forces continue to decrease. This situation, in fact, encourages the farmers to pursue more labour-productive technologies. Despite this macro-trend, there are some individuals who are believing in the philosophy of organic farming. It is estimated that currently about 10,000 farmers are practising organic farming in various manners. Some of them totally eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and agricultural chemicals, while others try to combine organic and high-input farming. The degrees of success vary widely. The major problem with sustainable agriculture is the absence of solid definition. Some people equate organic farming with sustainable farming, a questionable notion vis--vis the existing need for ever increasing productivity.

The prevailing socio-economic outlook in Korea will not allow to depart from the current practices within the very near future. A fundamental change in consumer demands is needed which is currently based on a "the more, the better" mentality, before high-input technologies can be discarded.

Technological options

As a first step, research efforts in Korea are being strengthened for maximizing efficiency in the use of scarce resources. Following below are some example for current strategies in resource protection:
  1. Improvement of fertilizer use efficiency, through
  2. Integrated pest management, through
  3. Strengthening protection of agricultural environments, through
  4. Better management of environmental resources, through

2. Technology transfer

There are two major channels for technology transfer in Korea, the field demonstration and the demonstration farm. Numerous technologies are being transferred in this way, including labour-saving techniques, horticultural techniques, specialized and value-added production, rice, upland and cash crops, and livestock production techniques. Technology transfer is essentially the responsibility of the County Extension Office under supervision of the Provincial Rural Development Administration.

Dissemination strategies and research-extension linkages

The Rural Development Administration (RDA) is the centralized government organization responsible for agricultural research and extension services. It plays a key role in research on the improvement of farming technology and rural development, dissemination of technology to the farmers, and education of farmers. During the last three decades, RDA has emphasized a demand-driven technology development and timely delivery of technology to the farming community. The RDA comprises 15 research institutes having specific objectives and also nine Provincial RDAs conducting both research on location-specific problems and extension work, supervising 176 County Extension Offices.

In addition, 10 specialized crop experiment stations have been established under the Provincial RDAs to conduct the research on special crops. In Korea, the linkage between research and extension is very strong, because these two functions under one administration, thus being different from other countries where these two functions belong to different offices or even different ministries. There are very frequent interactions between the researchers and extension officers to identify research subjects and to solve the problems occurring in farmers' fields.

Gaps in technology transfer

There exist gaps between the yield levels achieved in the research institutes and under practical farming conditions. These gaps, however, are relatively small. For instance, in rice, the yield difference between the demonstration plots' and farm fields is about 1 percent. For maize, barley, pulses, peanut and sesame, the yield gaps are 6 percent, 11 percent, 12 percent, 22 percent and 36 percent, respectively. When yield gaps are large this is mainly due to cultural practices and lagging adaptation of new varieties. Those crops are mostly produced for self-consumption and farmers do not pay full attention to yields.

Intervention level, sectoral linkages and accompanying measures

Agricultural cooperatives, organized under the National Agriculture Cooperative Federation (NACF) due to their mandates in increasing agricultural productivity and enhancing rural welfare, play an essential role in technology transfer, covering such activities as banking and credit input supply, marketing, insurance, warehousing, transportation, processing and related support services, e.g., research. Recently, the cooperatives have active in economically and politically representing farmers as an interest group.

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