As preceding chapters have shown, over the course of industrialisation in East Asia, as elsewhere in the developed world, agriculture’s role in the economy has been transformed. Once the major source of income and employment, the agricultural sectors of Japan, Korea and Taiwan gave up resources to the growing non-agricultural sector until, after remarkably short periods of time by international standards, protection and subsidisation became essential to their survival. At the same time however, within this broadly universal pattern, East Asian agriculture has followed its own path, related both to the region’s initial conditions and to the particular characteristics of its industrialisation. Thus it has been within a framework of small-scale, predominantly rice-cultivating, farm households that the agricultural sector has played its part in the development process and sought to adjust to the political economy of the industrialised states that Japan, Korea and Taiwan now are. And meanwhile, of course, differences in their historical circumstances and levels of development, and in their domestic and international political and economic situations, have generated variations in the responses of the farm sector in each individual country.
The pattern of similarity and difference within the overall picture of agricultural transformation in the region is thus a complex one. Nonetheless, since Japan, Taiwan and Korea represent the first countries to industrialise on the basis of agricultural sectors which do not operate, in all respects, with the same sorts of technology, environmental infrastructure and farm organisation as those of the earlier industrialisers of Europe and North America, much could be learnt from any general conclusions that can be drawn from their experience. In what follows, we will attempt to assess how far such conclusions can be drawn, as regards both agriculture’s role in industrialisation and the subsequent adjustment problem, and conclude by considering the challenges which East Asian agriculture must face in the globalising and liberalising world of the twenty-first century.