May. 8, 2019
A farmer at a farm in Bani, Dominican Republic, raises peppers grown from NW Golden seeds, which were exported by Korea's Nongwoo Bio in this August 2017 photo. Courtesy of Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
By Nam Hyun-woo
The government is making every effort to nurture the domestic seed industry, to catch up with advanced countries' growing efforts for food security.
To overcome Korea's limit in its market size, which accounts for only 1 percent of the international market, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is investing 400 billion won ($352.4 million) to help seed firms here to log $200 million in exports and become the world's No. 15 seed-exporting country by 2021.
According to the ministry, the global seed market was valued at $37.2 billion in 2016, and that of Korea accounted for $500 million, which is 1.34 percent of the total.
Of Korean private seed firms' sales in 2016, 88.4 percent was for domestic use, and 96 percent of those seeds were vegetable seeds.
To break through this domestic confinement, the ministry has been carrying out the 10-year Golden Seed Project since 2012.
For the project, the government earmarked 398.5 billion won to organize five industrial groups carrying out 89 projects on 20 products. The private sector also pitched in 92.6 billion won.
Ten of those products are for exports including pepper, Napa cabbage, white radish, watermelon, rice, potato, corn, halibut, abalone and Serranidae. Ten other products are to replace the need for importing seeds.
The ministry said it focused on nurturing the infrastructure of the domestic seed industry in the first five years of the project by setting up research institutes and an industrial complex in Gimje, North Jeolla Province, and firms have been coming up with industrial outcomes since 2017.
From 2013 to 2016, domestic seed firms posted $30.57 million in exports, which fell short of the ministry's goal of $41.09 million.
However, the exports quickly grew to log $24.47 million in 2017 alone, surpassing the target of $23.29 million. Exports continued to increase in 2018 to reach $38.73 million, which also tops the ministry's target of $38.68 million.
The number of registered seed brands also grew from 93 in 2017 to 132 in 2018.
An overseas agent of domestic seed firm Seedon raises onions grown from the firm's Shingi 2 seed at a farm in Ukraine in this June 2018 photo. Courtesy of Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Of note among the firms is Seedon, which develops onion seeds that can withstand cold temperatures falling below minus 30 degrees Celsius.
The company has been receiving an R&D subsidy as part of the Golden Seed Project and exporting the seeds to Russia, Ukraine and other European and Central Asian countries.
"The ministry's policy goal is aimed at nurturing domestic seed firms to have competitiveness in the global market," a ministry official said. "Under the project, we seek to raise the total exports to $200 million by 2021."
Along with the project, the ministry will hold the 2nd Korea Seed Expo in Gimje on Oct. 16. More than 70 domestic and international seed firms will participate in the three-day expo, and the ministry expects contracts worth more than 6 billion won will be signed during the event.