SEOUL, May 23 (Korea Bizwire) – Sales of organic food products in South Korea have nearly halved in recent years, as the long-term economic slump sees more and more consumers in the country hesitate to open their wallets for eco-friendly and chemical-free produce.
What was once fast becoming a popular lifestyle choice on the back of the well-being boom at the turn of the millennium has taken a major hit over the last few years, amid slow economic growth and record youth unemployment, resulting in the sales of organic food products plummeting from 1,161,000 tons in 2010 to 571,000 tons as of last year.
After organic standards were first introduced in South Korea in 1999, public interest in the pricier but more nutritious and eco-friendly selection of foods grew steadily, with the organic food market in 2010 61.8 times bigger than 11 years ago.
However, after organic food sales peaked in 2010, they began to decline gradually.
Last year’s figures from the National Agricultural Products Quality Management Service (NAQS) showed only grains – including rice – enjoyed a rise in production from 191,755 tons in 2010 to 233,403 tons in 2016.
Production of vegetables plummeted by over two thirds, the largest drop among any other type of organic food over the same period, from 577,892 tons to 145,851 tons.
Yields of potatoes and fruits took a hit also, resulting in sales decreases of 26.2 percent and 7.3 percent, respectively.
As the NAQS issues approval of organic food products on an annual basis, the downward trend in organic yields points to the decreasing number of farmers in the country who apply to get their organic agricultural products certified each year.
Some say the high price of organic food and its poor profitability are forcing both consumers and farmers out of organic farming and eating organic food.
For instance, five kilograms worth of organic apples are three to four times more expensive than their regular counterparts, while the high price of eco-friendly pesticides results in lower profits for farmers in return, in spite of continuous efforts from the state and local governments.
“A concerning number of farmers are giving up on organic farming. Though we are running a tight budget, we are preparing to introduce a number of measures,” one government official in North Chungcheong Province said.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)