Returning to farming phenomenon refers to a situation in which a population immigrates to rural areas from urban areas with intention of farming. The 21st century has seen numerous trends of this phenomenon occurring in Korea. Majority of urban inhabitants in Korea have been victims of this situation. The most affected mega city is Seoul where people have been “returning to rural areas to farm” (Bowden 8).

Congestion, lack of employment opportunities, real estate prices and generally high “standards of living in Seoul city” are some of the factors that are perceived to be fueling such phenomenon (Bowden 8). Returning to farming phenomenon has assisted these migrants to create jobs opportunities for themselves.

This paper work is aimed at discussing the aspects of the phenomenon into detail. The discussion will revolve around the causes of this phenomenon, types of relocation involved in the return, benefits that this phenomenon gives to Koreans and if any, the disadvantages associated with the returning to farming phenomenon.

Causes of the Returning to Farming Phenomenon

There are numerous factors that have been propelling people to move into rural areas to with the sole objective; farming. Some of these causes include environmental effects, high rate of unemployment in the city and unmanageable real estate prices among other causes.

There are several environmental factors that have led Koreans in Seoul to return to rural areas to farm. Farming is highly sensitive to climatic changes and weather extremities. Droughts, floods and severe storms in Seoul are some of the environmental factors that “hinder farming in this city” (Bowden 12). Forces that alter the climate in Seoul are also critical to farming activities. Human activities have already altered the atmospheric characteristics in Seoul. Some of the atmospheric characteristics that are affected include “temperature, rainfall, carbon dioxide concentration and ground level ozone” (Bowden 13).

Researchers feel that the same trend is likely to continue in Seoul for a long time. Even though food production can be supported by the warmer climate in Seoul, the rise in droughts, floods as well as heat waves are considered the greatest challenges to farming in this city and its environs. In addition Bowden asserted that, the enduring climatic variations, water supply and soil moisture make Seoul infeasible to support farming (14).

Most of the land in Seoul is utilized for settlements, setting up of industries and other commercial structures and thereby leaving no ample space for farming. Majority of potential farmers this city have found rural areas the most ideal sites for farming. They therefore move from the “capital city to go and till their lands in rural regions” (Bowden 9).

Rural areas have very attractive environmental factors that promote crop production and livestock rearing. The Korean government effort to minimize disparities between the urban and rural regions has also played a big role in influencing the returning to farming phenomenon (King 7). The government has improved conditions in rural areas by sustaining programs as well as projects that lead to development of “farms, villages and general rural environment” in which they exist (Bowden 15).

To ensure that the diverse needs of the rural communities are catered for, the government has installed some integrated approach which entails various strategies. Through the installation of these plans, there has been improvement in agricultural sector by encouraging rural farmers to become efficient and adopt better integrated in farming chains (FAO).

The government trains the farmers in rural areas on various alternatives of farming which include implementation of agri-environmental practices accompanied by effective agricultural practices. Bowden asserted that these incentives have been “pulling majority of Seoul dwellers” to relocate to various rural regions to practice farming especially those people who are unemployed (10).    

Korea is one the countries having the highest rate of unemployment. Majority of Koreans are unable to attain their potential due to hunger and poor health. Education and training systems in this region is often of low quality, inappropriate and irrelevant for the requirements of the labor market. Therefore, despite the fact that many youths are more educated today; “most of them lack employable skills” (Bowden 10).

Even if the youths have been well trained, several obstacles sill bar them from clinching onto good jobs. In Bowden’s view, social customs such as caste and traditional values, lack of capital and inaccessibility to support mechanisms; are some of the obstacles that block Koreans from getting employed (11). Structural impediments and corruption have also fueled the rate of unemployment in Korea. Studies have revealed that Korean youth numbers are multiplying faster than the rate at which jobs are created. As a result, just a “handful of decent jobs” are available for this rapidly growing number (Bowden 26).

A large number of Korean youths are unemployed or underemployed as a result of these effects. Bowden asserted that besides lacking income, the youths equally lack a means of gaining respect as well as the sense of belonging to the mega city Seoul (27). The youth normally work in informal sectors with poor working conditions since they are unable to obtain decent jobs. Without skills suited to the urban labor markets, the youths are entitled to fewer employment opportunities in Seoul. These situations of unemployment accompanied with poverty lead the youths to “abusing drugs, committing crime and become vulnerable for exploitation” (Bowden 27).

There are also other barriers that prevent the educated youths in the cities from accessing dignified jobs. Korea is a country that is known for gender disparity. Korean women despite their qualifications are not entitled to same employment opportunities that their male counterparts enjoy. Unemployed youths are vulnerable to exploitations such as unsafe occupations without wages, bonded labor with semi-slavery conditions, victims of human trafficking, vulnerability to HIV-AIDS and forced recruitment as under-age fighters in civil war (FAO).

To avoid these problems that come with unemployment, the youths as well as other groups of Koreans in Seoul have been moving to rural regions to try farming as an option. In rural areas, about two thirds of the occupants depend on “agriculture and farm income to survive” (Bowden, 29). Even though these rural inhabitants control only very little ownership of the farmland, they find it a better option compared to staying unemployed in Seoul city. Even if there is lack of adequate control of the farmland and its use, these “unemployed immigrants” are ready to take risks and thereby ensuring food security for themselves (Bowden 30).

The cost of living in Korea varies from one region to another depending on which place someone lives in. Seoul is considered the most expensive city to live in. In fact, the city is one of the most expensive cities in terms of real estate. As a result Bowden asserted that real estate businessman in Seoul city has to impose very high charges on his products in order to get considerably good returns hence making life expensive in Seoul (8).

One would argue that since real estate has good returns in Seoul, majority of those relocating to rural areas to farm should instead venture in real estate business. According to Bowden, this would have been possible only if it were “cheaper to put up a real estate”; which is not the case in Seoul (9). Majority of Koreans living in Seoul cannot afford to raise the capital required to set up a commercial real estate. To counteract the problems of unemployment, majority prefers to relocate to rural areas to go and “engage themselves in agricultural practices” since they cannot set up and manage real estate businesses (Bowden, 9).

Types of Returning to Farming Phenomenon

The movement of people from Seoul to practice farming in rural areas occur in three different ways. There are those families that have emigrated from the city and permanently relocated to rural areas. The second category of the migration involves families that move to rural areas and back to the city afterwards. The last category involves those families which mostly go to rural areas during weekends and holidays (FAO).

There are several reasons that compel some of potential farmers to relocate permanently to rural areas. Some of these Koreans have stayed in Seoul for a very long time without being able to find jobs for themselves. Some of them also emigrate permanently from the city because of termination of their employment (FAO). Old age cases may make some of these families to relocate to rural areas. To continue surviving in the city amidst all these problems normally prove tricky to these families. They therefore find relocating permanently to rural areas to do farming as the best option (FAO).

These families relocate fully and start a new life altogether. They learn to adapt to the changes that this relocation brings into their lives. They begin a new occupation as well; farming.

The second category which entails half way returned families also has its own reasons for such kind of migration. The most common reasons owing to this kind of relocation include the following. Some of these families work in Seoul on contract basis. At the end of each contract, they return to rural areas to work on their farms. Some of these families go to rural areas during the time that they are really required in their farms. Such periods include mainly the farming seasons (FAO).

Most of the half returned families are middle class families that depend on the returns accrued from farm produce to compliment their monthly income in the city. Since the life in Seoul is that expensive, it is farming that assists most of these families to meet their daily needs. These families benefit from the advantages that they obtain from the rural areas and the city as well (FAO).

Weekend families are interesting groups of farmers. These farmers go to rural areas mostly during weekends and holidays when they are off duty at their work places. Most of these families have their children learning is schools in Seoul and so cannot relocate permanently to rural areas or for a long duration. Some of them also work in the city and so can only get time during weekends or when on leave to go to rural areas to farm (FAO).

In most cases, weekend farming families have the funds that they use to hire people in rural areas to work for them in their farms. They only travel to rural areas during the weekends to supervise the work on their farms. The families enjoy the advantage from the city as well as rural areas (FAO).     

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Advantages of Returning to Farming Phenomenon

Returning to farming phenomenon in Korea has several advantages. The people who relocate to rural areas to farm have benefited a great deal. Besides, the country as a whole does benefit from this phenomenon. The advantages include, boost on the farming business and decongestion of Seoul town. Returning to farming phenomenon is regarded as a natural measure that has assisted to regulate the ever rising prices of real estate in Seoul. Agricultural produce from the rural areas are “sources of healthy food” (Yussefi 17).

As the linchpin of the developing Korean economy, farming offers a large potential to increase incomes of the rural poor people. Technology has been working on many fronts to convert this potential into reality. The technology has assisted farmer groups and other growers to tap into larger, more lucrative urban and export markets. As a matter of fact Yussefi reports that, returning to farming phenomenon has increased the incomes of millions of poor families in Korea (16).

Returning to farming phenomenon has led initiation of organic farming in the rural areas. With organic farming, the damages caused by the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are minimized. In Korea, organic farming produce is perceived to the main sources of clean food. Using organic manure in place of “chemical fertilizers and chemically synthesized pesticides” is an assurance of clean food production (King 9).

There are about 32,000 certified organic and environmentally friendly Korean farmers. These include “pure organic rice producers and pure organic greenhouse vegetable farms” (Yussefi 26). As return to farming phenomenon increases, there also has been an increase in organic sales. King asserts that the plan by the government to subsidize up to 10% of total agricultural production in Korea to achieve a 100% organic production nationwide has led to more agricultural production that have been boosting the country’s agri-business (9).

As a result of return to farming phenomenon, South Korea has a well-developed and highly productive agricultural sector. The government has been offering financial assistance as well as subsidizing mechanization and extensive use of fertilizers to farmers who relocate to rural areas from Seoul. In order to encourage growth and ensure self sufficiency in its major food requirements, Korean government has posed a ban on import of food such as rice under normal circumstances. The government also pays farmers in this phenomenon “higher than the world price” for their rice to encourage them to produce more (Bowden 15).

Nevertheless, South Korea is now sufficient in rice, fruits and vegetables productions. The country also produces large amounts of other food items such as barley and wheat. All these achievements are owed to the idea of “returning to farming” (King 11).

This phenomenon has lead to the establishment of several large and growing retail sectors in the rural areas. From Bowden’s work, the retail industry is, dominated majorly by small-scale traditional shops and restaurants are run mostly by these farmers (32). Even though there has been a plan to diversify most of these retail shops to accommodate larger and modern establishments and various foreign retailing networks, the success is yet to be realized. As a result, Bowden asserts that most of retail units such as stalls in markets and street vendors are still run by small families thereby assisting the relocating population from Seoul (32).

Returning to farming phenomenon has not only assisted in food production but also assisted generate wealth for the general improvement of lives of rural people. The phenomenon has led to better housing, education, health amenities, transportation network, local business diversification as well as more improved “recreational and cultural opportunities” in rural areas (Bowden 38).

According to King, small farmer-based rural economy created by the phenomenon has provided the basis for “strong national economic development” of Korea (9). The post-war experiences have shown the importance of equitable land distribution on economic development. The phenomenon has ensured the breaking of the economic stranglehold of the landholding class over rural economies. Together with trade protection which keep farm prices high and targeted investment in rural areas, these small farmers have been able to achieve a high level of purchasing power. As a result, Korean domestic markets are “guaranteed for fledging industries” (Bowden 36).

Another advantage of this phenomenon is the creation of job opportunities. According to researches, estimates of the expenses of creating a job in a commercial sector of South Korea lie between “two to twenty times more than the cost of establishing an unemployed” head of household on farm land (Bowden 36). In other words, return to farming phenomenon in Korea has led to creation of informal employment opportunities to several Koreans in rural areas. Infant mortality of the beneficiaries has dropped to only a half of the national average.

The phenomenon has aided conservation of Korean environment especially in the rural areas where the farming takes place. These farmers normally devote a good portion of their area to woodlands and soil improving uses such as cover crops and manures. King asserts that these farmers demonstrate the ability to prevent and even “reverse land degradation” such as soil erosion (11).

Apart from boosting Korean economy through agri-business, the phenomenon of returning to farming in Korea has led to vast production of healthy food used to feed the rural population as well as the Koreans living in cities such as Seoul. Fruits and vegetables produced in the farming practices form an important component of a healthy diet. Research works show that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables in sufficient amounts can help prevent major diseases such as CVDs and some types of cancer (Yussefi 24).

According to the World Health Report (WHO), returning to farming phenomenon in Korea has helped reduce incidences of ischaemic hear heart disorder and stroke in people of Korea. It is estimated that an increase in consumption of “fruits and vegetables” will save Koreans from most of the terminal diseases (Yussefi 23). The healthy food has also prevented the Koreans living in rural areas from contracting chronic diseases such as heart infections, diabetes and obesity. The healthy food in rural areas “prevents and alleviates” several cases of micronutrients deficiency in Korea (Yussefi 24).

Since the rural areas are free from industrials’ toxics, the food produced in the farms in these areas is perceived as clean and free of any toxic infections. Therefore, the food is highly fit for “human consumption” (Bowden 19). Apart from economic boost and production of healthy food, returning to farming phenomenon has helped decongest Seoul city. Congestion in Seoul ranges from traffic congestion, commercial buildings, offices, industries and residential houses. From Bowden’s assertion, people themselves also contribute to the congestion in Seoul (11). The movement of big numbers of families from Seoul to rural areas with aim of involving themselves in agricultural practices is one of major things that have been helping to decongest this city.

Not only does the migration from Seoul to rural areas help to decongest the city but it is equally beneficial in other ways. Seoul being one of the cities in which “real estate business’ is impeccable, it only implies that prices for the apartments are so high (Robinson and Zahorchak 113). The migration from Seoul has led to reduction in number of potential tenants. Price is a variable that depends on demand. As a result of the migration, the bubbling real estate prices for apartment buildings have been wiped out. As indicated on the recently conducted researches, the real estate prices in Seoul are gradually becoming affordable to majority as a result of the phenomenon (FAO).

Problems Associated with Returning to Farming phenomenon.

Some of the families which migrate from Seoul to settle in rural areas with hopes of making their lives better through farming have been failing to see their dream turn into reality. There are several problems that such families face as a result of this relocation especially when they fail to adapt to life conditions in the rural areas. There are several problems in rural areas (FAO).

Most of the rural areas in Korea have poor transport and communication networks. The better roads that are available are limited in terms of running times, routes plied, affordability and accessibility. In fact, in some of these areas, the only public bus may be local school busses making it difficult to move around with farm produce to the markets. As a result, “farm produce businesses” have become very difficult to carry out in such regions (Bowden 24).

Rural areas are also associated with lack of safe, affordable and accessible recreational amenities for young people. Often, the children from the city find it very difficult to cope with the life in rural areas (FAO). Moreover, relocating from the city to some of these rural areas makes some of these families experience a sharp difference in environmental changes. Drastic change of the environment may lead to emergence of some diseases especially for those individuals that are very sensitive to such changes. Unfortunately, most of these rural areas do not have adequate health institutions that could attend to these individuals.

When theses migrants fail to adapt to life in rural areas, some of them end up going back to the city. This return to the city is known to create other problems. The main problems include an abrupt increase in the prices of real estate especially prices for apartments (FAO).

In conclusion, return to farming phenomenon in Korea has seen more than a half of poor people emigrate from Seoul to rural areas. In rural areas the lives of these families have changed to the better compared to the time when they lived in the city without employment. The phenomenon has assisted in the creation of employment avenues, though informal. If encouraged, this phenomenon may assist to decongest Seoul even further.

The relevant authorities in the government should find ways of promoting and encouraging returning to farming phenomenon. Improving transportation and communication networks is one of the ways that may help in the promotion. Offering subsidies to farm inputs such as fertilizers and machineries in rural areas is likely to attract more potential farmers in Seoul to return to rural areas to farm. 

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