Local S. Korean governments to undertake various basic income experiments in 2020

Posted on : 2020-01-03 19:05 KST Modified on : 2020-01-03 22:12 KST
Central government taking hands-off approach in compensating farmers and communities
A meeting to discuss basic income projects throughout Gyeonggi Province hosted by the Gyeonggi Provincial Government on Oct. 31, 2019. (provided by Gyeonggi Province)
A meeting to discuss basic income projects throughout Gyeonggi Province hosted by the Gyeonggi Provincial Government on Oct. 31, 2019. (provided by Gyeonggi Province)

In the new year, a basic income experiment for farmers will be taking place at a large number of rural communities around South Korea. The central government has basically taken a hands-off approach, leaving local governments to compensate farmers and their communities for the value they provide to society. This appears to be an effort by local governments to address the gradually growing polarization between urban and rural areas and to stave off the hollowing out of the countryside.

Hankyoreh reporting shows that some 590,000 farming households around the country will be paid a farming allowing or a basic income for farmers this year, a figure representing more than half, or 57.7%, of the 1,021,000 farming households in the country (as of the end of 2018). The farming allowance is a monthly stipend paid not to individual farmers, but to households. The basic income for farmers is more universal than the allowance, since it’s paid to individual farmers, and not households.

South Jeolla Province will be accepting applications for a “public interest allowance” for farmers and fishermen, available to some 243,000 households in the province, from Jan. 2 to 22. The farming allowance will also be paid by North Jeolla Province (102,000 farming households), South Chungcheong Province (165,000), and Cheongsong County in North Gyeongsang Province (6,000). These households will be receiving 50,000 won (US$42.84) each month, amounting to 600,000 won (US$514.12) a year. The allowance will be available to households that are registered as farming or fishing businesses with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, which means that they spend at least 90 days a year engaged in agriculture and that they make 1.2 million won (US$1,0280 or more from agriculture a year or manage or cultivate at least 1,000 square meters of farmland.

All types of farming are eligible, including agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, and horticulture. Last year, a farming allowance of 600,000 won (US$514.05) was disbursed in Haenam County, South Jeolla Province, and a farming management stability stipend of 500,000 won (US$428.38) was paid out by Bonghwa County, North Gyeongsang Province; this year, the farming allowance is spreading to a wider swath of the country.

A basic income for farmers is also getting underway in 2020. Gyeonggi Province is in the vanguard here, with its basic income going into effect in the second half of the year. Whereas the farming income is paid to farmers who satisfy certain requirements, including cultivating farmland, the basic income for farmers seeks to be universal, individual, and unconditional. Not only farmers who are registered with the government but also individuals who have been effectively engaged in farming or fishing for three years or more and those who have retired after long careers in the area are all eligible.

The basic income, amounting to 600,000 won a year, is paid not to farming households but to individual farmers, which means that if a husband and wife both worked the fields, they’ll both receive the basic income. While the basic income program will begin in cities and counties interested in participating this year, Gyeonggi Province plans to expand it to all 430,000 farming households in the province within three years. The province is also planning another experiment this year, in which it will select one of the townships or neighborhoods that are at risk of being depopulated and pay 500,000 won a year to all its residents (presuming a population between 3,000 and 5,000).

In North Chungcheong Province, South Gyeongsang Province, and Jeju Island, residents are drafting an ordinance for a farming allowance, while Gangwon Province is planning to launch its own farming allowance this year. Local governments have allotted a total of 350.5 billion won (US$300.18 million) for the farming allowance this year, with all of those funds to be paid in community currency. Local governments hope the farming allowance will help rekindle village and neighborhood economies.

The increasing disparity between urban and rural areas

The race by these regions to institute a farming allowance is taken to reflect the conviction that something must be done about the threat to the livelihood of farmers and rural areas. South Korea’s agriculture market was opened up with the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, and the South Korea government has recently decided to give up developing nation status at the WTO.

In fact, the income gap between urban and rural regions has grown since the agro-fishery market was opened up. Farming households’ income fell from 95.7% of urban working households’ income in 1995 to 64.1% in 2017, a 31.6 point drop over 22 years. Polarization has also grown more severe in rural areas. Over the same period, the ratio between the fifth and first quintiles of farming household income grew from 9.6 to 11.5.

While farmers welcome the introduction of the allowance, they can’t hide their disappointment. “Local governments should be applauded for their efforts to introduce the farming allowance. But rather than the allowance serving to prop up income, the central government needs to take action so that agriculture’s contribution to the public interest can be valued and respected,” said Park Heung-sik, chair of the North Jeolla Province chapter of the Korean Peasants League.

By Hong Yong-duk, South Gyeonggi correspondent, Ahn Kwan-ok, Gwangju correspondent, Park Im-keun, North Jeolla correspondent, Song In-geol, Daejeon correspondent, and Kim Il-woo, Daegu correspondent

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