South Korea launches “K-Rice Belt” initiative with 8 African countries

By Sam Ursu

South Korea launches “K-Rice Belt” initiative with 8 African countries

On July 10, 2023, South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with eight African nations to launch a brand-new project to improve rice yields in those countries, known as the “K-Rice Belt Initiative.”

The new initiative is part of Seoul’s official development assistance (ODA) and is designed to help African nations build irrigation systems and provide technical assistance and equipment to improve rice cultivation and distribution in Cameroon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea (Bissau), Kenya, Senegal, and Uganda.

“Our goal is to help each partner nation better meet their needs and to achieve tangible results. The K-Belt Rice Initiative goes beyond donating food aid, as we seek to help them grow crops on their own,” said Chung Hwang-keun, the South Korean Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, at the launch of the new initiative.

South Korea has already budgeted $80 million for the new K-Belt Rice Initiative, with plans to further expand that amount as other African nations join the project. The initial goal of the K-Belt Rice Initiative is to harvest approximately 2,000 tons of rice varieties in the eight African partner nations in the first year, rising to 10,000 tons by the year 2027, a level sufficient to feed approximately 30 million people a year.

“This project will not only help with the food crisis in Africa but help achieve the world’s Sustainable Development Goals by protecting the African continent,” added Minister Chung Hwang-keung.

During the G7 meeting that was held in Hiroshima, Japan, in May 2023, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol made a pledge to provide additional support for nations facing a food crisis via various ODA plans (including the K-Rice Belt Initiative) as well as to double South Korea’s contributions to the World Food Program (WFP) to 100,000 tons of food aid per year, which can feed approximately six million people.

“South Korea is a great example of how a country can go from being a recipient of aid to a generous donor,” said Cindy McCain, the Executive Director of the WFP, following President Yoon’s announcement. “Within one generation, South Korea has overcome hunger to become a committed partner to WFP, helping us reach millions of hungry people around the world.”

From 2018-2022, South Korea donated 50,000 metric tons of rice to the WFP, which can feed approximately three million people. The WFP estimates that 345 million people worldwide are currently facing high levels of food insecurity. South Korea provided ODA for a total value of $2.8 billion in 2022, which represented 0.17% of GNI, an increase of 7.2% from the year before. However, South Korea’s 2024 ODA budget is officially $5.3 billion (spread across 1,978 projects), a whopping 43.2% increase over the current year, which would vault South Korea to the top ten list of OECD ODA donors worldwide.

South Korea holds the unique position of being the only member of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) that went from being a net recipient of ODA to a net contributor of ODA. At the end of World War II, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world and benefited heavily from relief assistance from the United States and other donors. However, explosive economic growth beginning in 1962 led to South Korea joining the OECD in 1996 and being removed from the list of ODA recipient countries in 2000. South Korea is currently ranked 16th worldwide for ODA spend.