By Chung Hwang-keun
Minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs
“Technology changes agriculture and, consequently, the lives of farmers,” said John May, chairman and CEO of John Deere, an American manufacturer of farm machinery and industrial equipment that is drawing the world’s attention for its advanced autonomous farming machines. By implication, he emphasized the necessity of technological innovation in agriculture, going beyond traditional ways of farming, to respond to an ever-advancing world. Food-tech and green biotechnology, where cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology are incorporated into the agriculture and food sector, are emerging as a hot topic that would make a shift in the paradigm of agriculture.
The world’s food-tech market was valued at approximately $554.2 billion in 2020 and has grown by an annual average of nearly 40 percent since 2017. The global market for green biotechnology is estimated at approximately $1.2 trillion in 2020 and is forecast to rapidly increase by an annual average of 6.7 percent by 2027.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has been making the utmost effort to ensure that the food-tech and green biotechnology industries with high growth potential have stronger global competitiveness. To this end, we developed a strategy to foster those industries and established a new task force team. In addition, a legislation process for the Act on the Promotion of Food-tech and Green Biotechnology Industries is underway at the National Assembly. The ministry is also carrying out all-encompassing support policies, including the establishment of the Food-tech Research Support Centre and hubs of green biotechnologies using seeds, insects, food, etc., as well as training of professionals and an increase of exports.
As a result of the government’s effort, public-private partnerships are bearing fruit. ALTtist, an alternative food company in Korea, signed a memorandum of understanding with a local food company early this year on the occasion of an international food exposition held in the US and started the export of plant-derived canned tuna to the US from the second half of this year. Partner Seed, a seed company located in a private complex for seed research and development in the city of Gimje in North Jeolla Province, developed a mini watermelon seed that has a thin rind and fewer seeds. It is expanding the exports of mini watermelons to Spain and Italy. This way, Korea’s food-tech and green biotechnology, combined with cutting-edge technologies, are breaking into new markets in every corner of the world and enhancing the international status of Korea’s agri-food products.
By taking advantage of the achievements made so far, new food-tech and green biotechnology industries are paving the way for shared growth with agriculture. For instance, the Korea Food Show, an exhibition of technologies of the food-tech industry, held from Nov. 15-17, has shown a new potential for shared growth between agriculture and new industries. Many Korean food companies are using homegrown agricultural products as raw materials for food of the next generation, such as alternative and functional foods. Also, a distribution platform, combined with digital technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence, efficiently connects farmers and consumers, thus expanding the market for Korea’s agricultural and livestock products. Smart farming, as precision farming based on the Internet of Things, is evolving as the optimum approach to producing food tailored to the needs of an individual.
Agriculture is no longer a primary industry simply in charge of food production, but is at the forefront of the highly advanced technology-based food industry of the future as an important element representing the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I hope that the agri-food industry will transform agriculture into a high-income industry and become the golden key to opening the future of agriculture and Korea.
Chung Hwang-keun is South Korea's minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs. The views expressed in this column are his own. -- Ed.