The following are excerpts from an interview with Administrator Ra Seung-yong of the Rural Development Administration of Korea, recently conducted by The Korea Post media for publication.—Ed.
Question: Would you briefly introduce the remarkable results RDA achieved last year?
Answer: In 2017, such global risks as protectionism, a hike in U.S. interest rates and global warming coexisted and the spread of such advanced technologies as artificial intelligence and Big Data accelerated. Accordingly, we needed to create future growth engines through high tech and future-oriented agroindustry.
Related to this, we placed emphasis on improving the people's quality of living through propulsion of field- and customer-oriented businesses. In system, we established the food industry technology team and the agriculture big data job creation team. At the same time, we secured 938.1 billion won in budget for expenditures for 2018, centering on job creation, the 4th industry convergence and safe management of agrifood.
Q: Would you comment on the RDA's main projects for 2018?
A: Korea's agriculture and farming villages are facing great changes and challenges such as the expansion of the market opening, including FTA, climate change and aging. To improve the quality of the people's living through advanced agricultural technology, RDA will place the focus on the following four issues based on the field- and customer-centered basis. Firstly, we will push for stable food production and production of foods that are safe to eat, including stabilization of rice supply. Secondly, it will take an initiative in securing future growth engine and job creation in the nation's agroindustry. Related to this, we already set 29.9 billion won in new budget for smart farm technology development and construction of smart farming support system. Thirdly, we will make efforts to strengthen competitiveness of Korea's agriculture and expand global technology cooperation. Fourth, we will actively foster region-specialized industry and agricultural manpower, the future of farming village.
Q: To create a better and hard-`working climate in the RDA, do you have any plan for change and innovation this year?
A: For the year 2018, we will exert best efforts to keep a proper balance between home and office and establish a productive office culture with passion and challenging spirit. To this end, we will try to change the system from the production-centered organization to social and economic value-oriented one this year. For instance, RDA will create smart and horizontal organizational culture and improve business efficiency by throwing away unnecessary work and innovating office space. Through the improvement of business efficiency, it will also reduce employees' total overtime by 17%.
Q: Last year, the Moon Jae-in-led government suggested the software powerhouse and the base construction for the 4th industrial revolution through ICT renaissance as the nation's major tasks. What is the RDA plan related to new growth engine industry to lead the future agriculture?
A: As the new growth engine industry to lead the future agriculture, we are securing original technologies that grafted IT on BT. For instance, we will push for facility management automatization for agricultural production and DB-linked technology related to rearing information in the ICT sector. Also RDA is trying to create high value added through convergence of agriculture, ICT technology and bio engineering. To build smart farm, an intelligent farm, it will link big data, including rearing information, artificial intelligence and automatic control system to agricultural techniques. At the same time, it will make efforts to develop food and natural medicine materials carrying high value added.
Q: Would you introduce the study status and future plan for Korea-type smart farm?
A: RDA is now developing the Korea-type smart farm standard model that the people can easily enter and save cost through localization of core technology. For an example, it is suggesting Korea-type second generation smart farm standard model by using rearing management software. It also plans to create 40 scientific farming facilities in the country for advanced practical training in 2018 in a bid to foster professional manpower. It plans to develop artificial intelligent engine based on video information during the period from 2018 to 2022 and artificial intelligence engine platform that merged video, voice and text during the period from 2023 to 2027.
Q: Would you explain about the current status for development of ICT-based advanced agricultural machines?
A: In the U.S. where the market of unmanned moving vehicles such as drones and driverless cars has been growing rapidly, makers of agricultural machines, including tractors, are leading the technology and market. In Korea, however, there is a difficulty to use advanced foreign unmanned technology as the domestic agriculture is a small-scale rice farming. The number of drones sold globally has surpassed 2.15 million worth $4.5 billion and the global market volume of unmanned agricultural machines is expected to see an annual average growth of 42% over the coming five years. For development of the new growth project for driverless cars, drones, robots, smart city and Fintech, the government is now revamping the legal system toward permission in advance and ex-post regulation.
Q: Insects are emerging as the new source to supply food in keeping with an increase in population and climate change. Do you have any plan to use insects to improve value added?
A: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) pointed out edible insects as a means to fight hunger and reduce environmental pollution. The market volume of edible insects is also expected to soar to 2 trillion won in 2020 from 800 billion won in 2016. In line with this, RDA is making a strong push for the use of edible insects as food, medicines, cosmetics and 3D printing materials. For preparation for the future food shortage and development of high value added food, RDA registered seven kinds of edible insects that passed through scientific safety appraisals as general foods. It is also developing a menu for patients through diversification of materials using edible insects.
Q: The number of domestic patients waiting for internal organ transplant has surpassed 30,000. Would you comment on the current status and prospects for the study on internal organ transplant using pig?
A: Pigs are the optimum animal that can offer their internal organs to human beings as their physiological characters are similar to men. However, it is essential to solve side effects, including immunological rejection. Related to this, RDA plans to produce and supply transformed pigs for heterograft stably to the medical community.
Q: RDA is making strenuous efforts to foster young farmers for creation of more jobs in the agricultural sector. Would you introduce related plans?
A: The government plans to create 33,000 jobs in the agrifood sector in 2018 and aims at increasing the figure to 170,000 by 2022 by pouring 7.4 billion won to foster young farmers. In line with this, it plans to foster 5,000 youth 4-H members as regional core leaders by 2022. RDA will actively support young farmers' creation of new businesses by introducing a mentor and mentee program and specialized education programs.
Q: RDA has been pushing ahead with the ODA (official development assistance) project that transfers Korea's advanced agricultural technology to developing countries. Would you introduce the RDA's future ODA project?
A: On the occasion of the ODA 3 trillion won era, the government suggested the three principles of the ODA in June 2017 - effective, transparent and together. In line with this, RDA set up the KOPIA (Korea Program on International Agriculture) center in 20 countries, including those in Asia, Africa and Latin America, to provide them with tailor-made advanced agricultural technology. Thanks to such efforts, Kenya saw its production of seed potatoes by 3.5 times and farmers' income through supply of poultry farming technology by 3.6 times. Meanwhile, Cambodia, which received advanced poultry breeding technology from Korea, could reduce the relevant breeding period from 106 days to 67 days. At the same time, RDA is actively pushing for agriculture-related joint R&D projects through the operation of "agrifood technology cooperation council" in which 45 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, participate. For instance, it succeeded in reenacting the "green revolution" in Africa through the KAFACI (Korea-Africa Food & Agriculture Cooperation Initiative), jacking up the productivity of the participating 20 countries by 1.9 times. For 13 countries in Asia, it offered advanced technology for management of genetic resources and improvement of farming technology.
Q: Do you have any plan to effectively cope with the expansion of FTAs, including the renegotiation for the Korea-U.S. FTA?
A: For technology development to cope with FTAs, the government will invest some 10 billion won in budgets in 2018. RDA will place the emphasis on developing export competitiveness of domestic fruits and livestock products. In preparation for an increase in imports of such U.S.-produced fruits as orange, cherry, lemon and grapefruit and livestock products, it will exert best efforts to help domestic farmers bolster their export competitiveness of locally produced fruits, including pear, sweet persimmon and strawberry.