The recent Organic World Congress in Korea was the highlight of 30 years of organic developments in Korea. Organic agriculture in Korea was initiated by individual farmers in the 1970s and the movement began to organize itself in the 1980s. A special feature of the Korean situation is that organic is one of three official schemes for environmentally-friendly (also called eco-friendly) agriculture; organic, pesticide-free and low-pesticide. The output of the environmentally-friendly sector grew from 27,000 tons in 1999 (0.1% of total farm produce) to 2,358,000 tons in 2009 (12.2% of total farm produce). In 2009, there were 199,000 recognized environmental-friendly farms. Of these around, 10,000 were organic. Many Korean information sources mix the figures for the three schemes and there also appears to be some confusion in market communications, although there is a distinct organic mark.
The total volume of Korean organic farm produce, at the farm level, is estimated to be worth 150 billion Korean Won (approximately US$ 125million) and is increasing by 30% per annum. The organic market is growing even faster, by around 40% a year, and so imports play a considerable role in the Korean market. In 2009, 21 billion Korean Won (about US$ 17 million) worth of organic food was imported.
Formal certification can be traced back to the 1997 Act on the Promotion of Environmental Agriculture which took effect in 1998. The act allowed only governmental agencies to verify organic production; through a declaration system managed by the National Agricultural Products Quality Management Service. The Environmentally Friendly Agriculture Fosterage Act in 2001 allowed private agencies to be designated and work as certification bodies (known as authorities in Korea). A mandatory certification system was put in place for those who want to use a mark designating an organic agricultural product. Heuksalim was the first certification body, approved in 2002 and since then 70 certification bodies have been designated,68 of which still maintain their approval status. The Association of Eco-friendly Certification Authorities was established in September 2006 and is currently in charge of management and professional training of inspectors. Imports of organic food are also regulated. The Korean Regulation for Food Industry Promotion Act doesn’t allow equivalence mechanisms and all organic food imports have to be certified by Korean authorities. As a result of complaints to the WTO this measure has been postponed until 31 December 2012. Foreign certification bodies report that it is enormously frustrating to work with Korean authorities.
The host of the Organic World Congress, Namyangju City, is piloting a certification scheme for organic restaurants under which five organic restaurants are currently certified. Two public servants, responsible for public health and agriculture respectively, make field inspections and a certification committee of 10 members takes a certification decision. Public support for the organic sector has taken many forms. In 2004, two local municipalities took the decision to provide environmentally-friendly school meals. By 2009, 90% of local municipalities had taken such decisions. Some have gone further; Gayang elementary school in Seoul started to provide all its 866 students with 100% organic school meals in March, 2008. There are many other forms of government support schemes and payments. In conjunction with the Organic World Congress an organic museum was established, with an investment of about US$ 40 million, and the congress itself had a US$ 2 million budget.
|The Organic Museum|