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Mr. Lee Kyung-Hae

by .......... Friday, Sep. 12, 2003 at 8:59 AM

In an article written for the periocical, Korea AgraFood (April 2003), Mr. Lee Kyung-hae talks about his own personal experiences and the reasons why he opposed the WTO.

On the 23rd of February 2003 Mr. Lee Kyung-Hae, a farmer President of the Korean Advanced Farmers Federation, put up a tent in front of the WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and started a solo protest against the first draft modalities drawn up by Mr. Stuart Harbinson, who is the chairperson of the Committee on Agriculture of the WTO. From the 20th of March Mr. Lee began a hunger strike expressing his demands on picket boards, which read: “WTO Kills Farmers.” “Stop your agricultural negotiations.” And “Exclude Agriculture from the WTO.”

"I am 56 years old, a farmer from South Korea who have strived to solve our problems ourselves with a great hope in the ways to organize farmer’s unions, but is the one who have failed mostly as many other farm leaders elsewhere.

Soon after the Uruguay Round (UR) Agreement was settled, we, Korean fellow farmers, and myself realized that our destinies are out of our hands already. Further, so powerlessly of ourselves, we could not do anything but just looking the waves destroy our lovely rural communities that had settle-downed over the hundred years. To make myself brave, I have tried to search the real reasons for and major forces of those waves. Reaching to my conclusion now here in Geneva, at the front gate of the WTO, I am crying out my words to you that have been boiled so long time in my body.

It is true that Korean agricultural reform programs increased the productivity of individual farms. However it is also fact that increased productivity simply added another volume to over-supplied market in which imported goods occupied the lowest price portion. Since then, we never be paid over our production costs. Sometime, price drop recorded four-timers of normal trend in a sudden. How would it be your emotional reaction if your salary drops suddenly to a half without knowing clearly the reason.

One part, those farmers who gave up earlier his farming went to urban slum. The others who had tried to escape from the vicious cycle had to meet bankruptcy with accumulated debts mostly. Of course, some fortunate peoples could come further but not all of them may go longer, I suspect. For me I couldn’t do anything but just looking around this vacant house of old and eroded.

What I could do was to check sometimes his house with hoping him back. Once I run to a house where a farmer abandoned his life by drinking a toxic chemical because of his uncontrollable debts. I also could do nothing but hearing the howling of his wife. If you were me, how would you feel?

If you walk into Korean rural villages, we may firstly see many ruined structures – mostly livestock shelters and green (mostly glass) houses, which swallowed such big amounts of money. If you get into some houses, you can easily meet old-aged-peoples who suffer from illness in most cases. Rural amenities can be felt, at a glance, only in riding on your car in the road. In fact, good road systems of being paved widely pulls large apartments (a thousand people live in it, usually), buildings and factories in Korea. Those lands paved now mostly were the paddies that constructed for the generations of thousand years and provided the daily lives foods and materials in the past. Now in the contemporary society, the environmental functions of paddies, ecologically and hydrologically are even more crucial. Who shall keep our rural vitality, community traditions, amenities and environment?

By the help of a farmers union, I had the chance to travel abroad to see how farmers outside are doing for their competitiveness or for survival at least. It was good to see that European Union farmers kept their prides in keeping their community settings, foods, traditional heritages and cultures. To see their strong feelings of social responsibility, union loyalties and a high social support from their governments, I was aware that they would not easily give up tilling their lands.

So far they were efficient enough to manage such size with limited family labor. But without such support, they may not continue farming and otherwise may go to tourism. Difficulties of small farmers were similar to that of ours. Farmers in the U.S. were looked upon as big and more calculating but also as more risky in other ways. While they wanted to export more, they always worried about their possible bankruptcy. I wondered why they were not content with their big farms and good machines. Many of them told me that the situation of prices dropping significantly had gone on for a long time and that they just barely earned their agricultural salaries no matter what the statistics said about ever-increasing exports. Besides, the stomachs of our business partners (grain dealers, agro-industries, processors) are just getting bigger and bigger, they said. In conclusion, they told me that many farmers in the U.S. will have to file for bankruptcy soon, especially if there are not any additional subsidies available because of their possible failures in paying the interests for the loan in increasing their size and inputs.

I believe that farmers situation of many other developing countries is similar – but may be from different sources of internal problems. However commonly, the problem of price-dumping imports continues to surge, lacking governmental budgets, and too many populations in the background. For them, protection by tariff would be the practical solution.

I have felt so bad watching the TV and hearing news about starvation and that it is prevalent in many less developed countries, even though the price of international grains is so cheap. Earning money by trade would not be a way of securing food. But securing land and water resources would be their way, I think. Whenenver I watched this kind of disaster unto a human being, I naturally remembered the big and fat people in some urbanized countries of the North. Charity? No! Let them work again!

My warning goes to all citizens that human beings are in an endangered situation that uncontrolled multinational corporations and a small number of big WTO official members are leading an undesirable globalization of inhumane, environmentally degrading, farmer-killing and undemocratic policies. It should be stopped immediately, otherwise the false logic of neo-liberalism will perish the diversities of global agriculture with disastrous consequences to all human beings. "

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