Sustainable Agriculture in the Republic of Korea

  • Jungho Suh
Part of the Sustainable Agriculture Reviews book series (SARV, volume 27)


This chapter provides an overview of rural landscape changes in the Republic of Korea (hereafter Korea) over the last five to six decades, paying attention to the role of sustainable agriculture in the holistic sustainability of rural society. Korea has witnessed a similar pattern of rural changes experienced by developed economies in more than a hundred years. However, the landscape changes that rural Korea has experienced have barely been documented. The chapter reviews the relevant literature and derives a lesson for the future direction of rural development in Korea. To this end, this chapter divides the Korean agricultural history into three topical periods: permanent agriculture before the 1960s, agricultural industrialisation in the 1960s and onwards, and the emergence of post-productivism in the 1990s. Korean agriculture was depicted as ‘permanent agriculture’ by Franklin Hiram King (1848–1911), who travelled through the Far Eastern Asian countries in 1909. The American agricultural scientist reported that farmers in China, Korea and Japan had been able to maintain soil fertility for thousands of years by practising resource recycling in a closed nutrient system. Permanent agriculture used to be prevalent in Korea until the 1960s.

The Saemaul (New Village) Movement, a top-down rural development movement, was launched in the early 1970s with primary objectives to mobilise rural labour force, to establish rural infrastructure and to increase food production. This movement was oriented towards the economic prosperity of rural areas and pursued agricultural industrialisation. With growing employment opportunities in urban industries, Korea has witnessed tidal rural out-migration since the 1960s. The share of the Korean rural population dropped from 72.3% in 1960 to 18.1% in 2010. Moreover, the agricultural sector accounted for only 6.6% of the entire employment of the country in 2010. In reaction to these rural landscape changes, various sustainable agriculture movements have emerged in Korea since the 1990s. In particular, the Back-to-the-Land Migration Movement has played a significant role in alluring prospective rural-ward migrants, providing them with agricultural extension programs, and promoting organic agriculture. In 2014 alone, about 11 thousand households migrated to rural villages with at least one household member involved in farming activities. Along with the increasing number of farming migrants, organic farming areas in Korea have increased since the early 2000s. About 18.3 thousand ha of agricultural land was under organic management in 2014, accounting for about 1.0% of the total agricultural land. The share of organic agricultural land made Korea the sixth largest state in Asia in 2014. This paper reiterates the proposition that organic agriculture can play a vital role in rebuilding rural communities.


Permanent agriculture Agricultural industrialisation Saemaul (New Village) Movement Back-to-the-land migration Organic agriculture 



This work was supported by the Academy of Korean Studies (grant number: AKS-2015-R17).


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geography, Environment and PopulationThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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