South Korea pledges to bolster rice production in eight African nations

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South Korea is poised to ink an agreement with eight African countries next week aimed at augmenting rice production and diminishing their reliance on imports, as disclosed by Agriculture Minister Chung Hwang-keun in a Reuters interview. This announcement emerges in the midst of escalating concerns over food security in Africa.

The commitment aligns with President Yoon Suk Yeol’s recently declared aspiration to reshape South Korea’s foreign policy, with the intention of transforming the country into a “global pivotal state”. His vision calls for South Korea to assume a more proactive role on the global stage.

Dubbed the “K-Ricebelt Project”, South Korea will be implementing agricultural infrastructure in Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, Senegal, Cameroon, Uganda and Kenya. The purpose of this initiative is to foster the production of locally adapted rice seeds, which are predicted to produce yields that are two to three times higher than those of domestic varieties. Minister Chung shared these details earlier this week.

The minister reiterated the urgency of the situation, as African officials conveyed their critical need for assistance during his visits to the continent that began late last year. “It was when food security was a global issue. Rice prices had almost doubled due to supply chain disruptions,” Chung commented, drawing attention to how heavy reliance on food imports had depleted these nations’ foreign exchange reserves.

Rice is a staple food in West Africa, however, local production is only able to satisfy approximately 60% of demand, according to data from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This heavy dependence on imports leaves the region highly vulnerable to global price volatility and potential disruptions in trade.

An official from South Korea’s agriculture ministry revealed that the country plans to invest over 100 billion won ($77 million) in this food project over the forthcoming four years. The ambitious goal is to distribute 10,000 tonnes of rice seeds annually starting from 2027.

“President Yoon Suk Yeol has been very clear about this, that we should come forward to help because we were the ones getting help during the difficult times,” Minister Chung stated.

While South Korea produces enough rice to meet over 90% of its domestic demand, it continues to rely heavily on imports for certain other food commodities.

Agriculture ministers from the eight African nations involved are expected to visit Seoul next Monday to formally sign the project agreements.

The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) has voiced its approval of the K-Ricebelt Project.

“The K-Rice project will bring outstanding rice varieties and hope to the small farmers in Africa suffering from the climate crisis,” noted Marian Sunhee Yun, the director of the WFP Korea Office.

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