Of the three countries studied in this book, Korea began its process of rapid industrialisation under the least favourable circumstances, both as regards the economy in general and agriculture in particular. In the mid-1950s, in the aftermath of the Korean War, the per capita incomes of the largely rural population were extremely low and extensive food aid was required to stave off starvation. Yet thirty years later, Korea was a fully fledged industrial economy and substantial trading power and Korean farmers were already receiving the protection and subsidy typically granted to developed-country agriculture.
For some commentators, Korea also stands out amongst the three East Asian countries for the limited role agriculture is seen as having played in the process of industrialisation: it was the growth of the industrial sector that led the transformation of the economy in a classic, Lewisian-style, two-sector growth sequence based on the movement of surplus labour from agriculture to industry. Agricultural output grew, but only in response to the increase in the demand for food in the swelling urban centres in which industrial growth was concentrated. Rural households gave up their sons and daughters to the cities, but in other respects intersectoral linkages were few and the industrial sector grew on the basis of capital generated within itself or borrowed from abroad. 1 For others, however, Korean agriculture was efficiently exploited, through manipulation of the agriculture/industry terms of trade, by the most authoritarian of the three states with which we are concerned and the one most intent on keeping urban food costs and wages low (see e.g. Bello and Rosenfeld 1992: ch. 4). And yet, for still others, agricultural output continued to grow, as a result of appropriate, yield-increasing technical change, and Korea is seen as being blessed with the ‘dynamic agricultural sector’ characteristic of the ‘miracle economies’, avoiding dualism and inequality on the basis of a responsive, small-scale farm structure (e.g. World Bank 1993:32-7).
The aim of this chapter is therefore to consider the extent and nature of