By Soo-hyang Choi
SEOUL, July 6 (Reuters) – South Korea is expected to sign an agreement with eight African countries next week to help boost rice production and reduce dependence on imports, Agriculture Minister Chung Hwang-keun told Reuters, amid concerns regarding food security on the continent.
The move also comes as President Yoon Suk Yeol pledged to revamp South Korea’s foreign policy and make it a “global pivot state” playing a more active role in the world.
Under the “K-Ricebelt Project”, South Korea will build facilities in Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, Senegal, Cameroon, Uganda and Kenya to produce rice seeds better adapted to local conditions and having yields two to three times higher than domestic varieties, Chung said in an interview this week.
The minister said that during several visits to Africa from late last year officials told him they were in desperate need of help.
“That was when food security was a global issue. Rice prices had almost doubled due to supply chain disruptions,” Chung said, noting how food imports had taken a toll on countries’ foreign exchange reserves.
Rice is a staple in West Africa, but local production meets only about 60% of demand, according to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This means that the region is highly exposed to global price volatility and trade disruptions.
An Agriculture Ministry official said South Korea plans to spend more than 100 billion won ($77 million) on the food project over the next four years, with the aim of distributing 10,000 tons of rice seeds every year from 2027.
“President Yoon Suk Yeol was very clear about this, that we should help out because we were the ones receiving help during the difficult times,” Chung said.
South Korea has been able to produce enough rice to meet more than 90% of local demand, although it still relies heavily on some other food imports.
Agriculture ministers from the eight participating African countries are due to travel to Seoul on Monday to sign agreements on the project.
The United Nations World Food Program welcomed the decision.
“The K-Rice project will bring exceptional rice varieties and hope to African smallholder farmers suffering from the climate crisis,” said Marian Sunhee Yun, WFP Korea Country Director.
($1 = 1,302.3500 won)
(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Editing by Ed Davies and Sonali Paul)
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