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South Korea Table of Contents

South Korea


Figure 10. Employment by Sector, 1980 and 1988

Source: Based on information from Republic of Korea, Ministry of Culture and Information, Korean Overseas Information Service, A Handbook of Korea, Seoul, 1982, 489; Byung-Nak Song, The Rise of the Korean Economy, Hong Kong, 1990, 109; and Europa World Yearbook, 1990, 2, London, 1990, 1556.

At the start of the economic boom in 1963, the majority of South Koreans were farmers. Sixty-three percent of the population lived in rural areas. In the next twenty-five years, South Korea grew from a predominantly rural, agricultural nation into an urban, newly industrialized country and the agricultural workforce shrunk to only 21 percent in 1989 (see fig. 10). Government officials expected that urbanization and industrialization would further reduce the number of agricultural workers to well under 20 percent by 2000.

South Korea's agriculture had many inherent problems. South Korea is a mountainous country with only 22 percent arable land and less rainfall than most other neighboring rice-growing countries (see Land Area and Borders; Climate , ch. 2). A major land reform in the late 1940s and early 1950s spread ownership of land to the rural peasantry. Individual holdings, however, were too small (averaging one hectare, which made cultivation inefficient and discouraged mechanization) or too spread out to provide families with much chance to produce a significant quantity of food. The enormous growth of urban areas led to a rapid decrease of available farmland, while at the same time population increases and bigger incomes meant that the demand for food greatly outstripped supply. The result of these developments was that by the late 1980s roughly half of South Korea's needs, mainly wheat and animal feed corn, was imported.

Compared with the industrial and service sectors, agriculture remained the most sluggish sector of the economy. In 1988 the contribution of agriculture to overall GDP was only about 10.8 percent, down from approximately 12.3 percent the previous year. Most economists agreed that the country's rural areas had gained more than they had contributed in the course of industrialization. Still, the growth of agricultural output, which averaged 3.4 percent per year between 1945 and 1974, 6.8 percent annually during the 1974-79 period, and 5.6 percent between 1980 and 1986, was credible. The gains were even more impressive because they added to a traditionally high level of productivity. On the other hand, the overall growth of the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector was only 0.6 percent in 1987 as compared with the manufacturing sector, which grew 16 percent during 1986 and 1987. During the first half of 1989, the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries sector grew 5.9 percent, as opposed to manufacturing's 2.9 percent.

Data as of June 1990