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(Yonhap Interview) IFAD chief urges S. Korea's technological support for developing countries

2018/05/11 16:59

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SEOUL, May 11 (Yonhap) -- A U.N. agricultural development agency on Friday urged South Korea to increase support for poor countries by sharing its growth experience and advanced technologies.

Gilbert Houngbo, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), also expressed his desire to strengthen cooperation with Seoul in advancing his vision of using agriculture not only as a means for food security but also as a "decent" way to earn a living and secure stable income.

"I will have the opportunity to discuss with the (Korean) authorities clearly how can we capitalize on Korea's expertise in terms of the use of technology to boost smallholder farmers' productivity and therefore their production, and how to use that in terms of financial information and access to capital market and to marketing and commercial information," he told Yonhap News Agency.

Gilbert Houngbo, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, speaks at a forum on sustainable agricultural development in Seoul on May 11, 2018, in this photo provided by the U.N. agency. (Yonhap) Gilbert Houngbo, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, speaks at a forum on sustainable agricultural development in Seoul on May 11, 2018, in this photo provided by the U.N. agency. (Yonhap)

"All of that is the thing that we believe Korea can help us with. Korea is a very good example when it comes to the use of technology, namely in the farming sector," he added.

Houngbo, who served as the prime minster of Togo from 2008-2012, came here to meet with Korean officials, including the ministers of agriculture, finance and foreign affairs, and to attend an international forum on sustainable agricultural development here.

The IFAD chief spelled out a set of specific areas to which Korea can contribute to help low-income countries to enhance their agricultural industries and thus help fight poverty and hunger across the world.

"When you go from the seeds to the soil to the harvesting, to the storage and to the basic transportation ... everywhere -- you can use basic technologies (that Korean can offer)," he said. "Another example will be solar technology. This is what we expect (from Korea)."

   IFAD, a specialized agency of the United Nations, was founded in 1977 following the food crises of the early 1970s, when global food shortages triggered famine and malnutrition, particularly in some African countries.

Since its inception, the agency has helped about 464 million people procure food, better manage their land and other resources, and sharpen their production and business skills.

South Korea is one of IFAD's founding members. It has contributed US$34 million as of 2017, IFAD said.

Asked whether IFAD has played any role in supporting North Koreans, Houngbo cited a "combination of various factors" for the absence of any cooperation between the two sides over the last decade.

"The only thing I can say is that it is the global international situation in the past several years that has not made (cooperation) possible. From the humanitarian basis, it is our sister agency, the World Food Program. That really deals with that, and better placed than I am. And WFP has always been present in Pyongyang," he said.

"From the IFAD perspective, obviously, whatever a country needs our intervention, we are also ready to engage. (But) I am not in a position to honestly be able to give you data or statistics in terms of food security in Pyongyang," he added.

Speaking of the South's meteoric economic ascent, Houngbo highlighted South Korea's Saemaeul Movement, a rural development campaign undertaken in the 1970s. It places importance on diligence, self-help and cooperation to generate growth and create better living conditions for people in rural areas.

"It is the organizational side (we want to learn from the movement). What we need in low-income countries now is to have the farmers' organization -- better organized, being able to provide their membership the economy of scale ... for example by having the economy of scale when procuring fertilizers," he said.

"You need to see farming also as business. That is usually what a farmer organization can contribute. Your experience here will be extremely valuable," he added.

sshluck@yna.co.kr

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