In South Korea, centuries of farming point to the future for sustainable agriculture

Compendium Volume 4 Number 1 July 2020

In South Korea, knowledge of ancient farming techniques adapted to various harsh conditions, along with a sense of urgency about the need to adapt to even harsher conditions as the global climate system deteriorates, is bringing about the blossoming of an environmentally friendly agriculture movement.

Farmers draw on traditional knowledge of “nitrogen-fixing plants, soil bacteria, micro-organisms, and the relations between all of them to optimize yields by increasing soil fertility, boost crop health and biomass for livestock grazing, and reduce weed and pest infestations.” These practices are combined with intercropping (planting multiple crops together in a field) and crop rotation (constantly changing crops over time in a field) in a developing agricultural ethic that favors biodiversity and soil health.

Interestingly, the role of soil microorganisms is understood and valued in a way that intersects a fermentation-based food culture.

Traditional Korean knowledge of soil nutrients and food fermentation techniques is also used by some farmers to create natural fertilizer and pesticide. This is done by culturing and proliferating indigenous microorganisms – fungi, bacteria and yeast – to enhance the soil’s fertility without the need for livestock waste.

Such practices are supported both by national policy aiming to facilitate transition to organic and environmentally friendly methods, and by community-led organic farming movements. From participating in national climate strikes to demanding protections of native seeds to facilitating organic food commerce, consumer coops are doing their part to help make South Korea a global model for sustainable farming.

Similarly, both government and grassroots groups have established initiatives to recruit youth into agricultural careers.

The South Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has set up a Back-to-Earth Promotion Project, Youth Farmer Fostering Policy, and the Farmland Banking Project, aiming to promote and fund startups and businesses in the agricultural sector and in farming villages. …

Grassroots initiatives that are part of a similar movement can be seen in the Milmeori Farm School in Yeoju county and the Geumsan Gandhi School in Geumsan county. These are boarding school programs that bring youth from cities to experience the countryside, learn Korean organic farming, and cook plant-rich dishes from their harvests.

For the full PDF version of the compendium issue where this article appears, visit Compendium Volume 4 Number 1 July 2020