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Corn on the Cambodian cob suits Korean farmer

Lee Woo-chang, head of KomerCN, examines corns grown at his farm in Cambodia. Provided by the company
Lee Woo-chang, 42, set up a farming company called KomerCN in Cambodia
back in December 2008 to grow corn. Lee started out small. His initial
farm was on 21 hectares (51.89 acres) of land in Wiwalton Village,
Kampong Speu Province. However, he wants to expand the farm to 13,000
hectares.

Lee also formed a corn agricultural cooperative with
1,400 Cambodian farmers who are cultivating 7,000 hectares of land. Lee
plans to purchase all the corn produced by the cooperative and export
it to Korea, which is heavily dependent on corn imports.

According to Lee, it will be one of the first times that Korea has imported corn from a Korean-managed overseas farm.

Lee
is in talks with Daesang, a major local food producer, for the
Cambodian corn supplies. “If the corn is tested to be safe from toxins
or molds, it may happen,” Lee said.

Daesang buys 500,000 tons of corn a year. KomerCN and Daesang are now doing a field study of the farm.

“This is a feat achieved only two and a half years after we entered Cambodia,” Lee said.
Lee
started looking outside Korea in 2007 when the international price of
grain began shooting up. Lee was originally a livestock farmer, owning
a large cattle farm in Asan, South Chungcheong.

But the price of
animal feed, including corn, increased so much that he decided to start
his own farm outside Korea. The prices kept raising and the feed was
not only expensive but also hard to get.

“I thought if I go overseas and do farming myself, I could at least get a stable supply of grain,” he said.

In
May 2008, Lee joined a government program and went to Cambodia to check
out farming conditions there. Lee chose Cambodia because of the
weather. The area’s average temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius
(86 degrees Fahrenheit). Except for the dry season between November and
March, it is possible to have three rounds of harvests a year. “The
Russian Far East is too cold. I thought it would be more productive to
do farming in Cambodia,” Lee said.

Cambodia covers 181,040
square kilometers (44.7 million acres) of land and is twice as large as
South Korea (99,000 square kilometers). However, the population is only
15 million and unlike China and Russia, there is less likelihood that
Cambodia may limit grain exports. The fact that teenagers and young
adults make up a large portion of its population is also a plus.

“There
are a lot of human resources. Because manufacturing has not yet
developed much, farming is still a major source of income in Cambodia,”
he said.

In December 2008, he invested 2.5 billion won ($2.2
million) including 800 million won he borrowed from the Ministry for
Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and founded a company, which
he named “KomerCN,” a combination of Korea and Khmer, the old name of
Cambodia.

Wiwalton is a remote village with 30,000 people.
There is no reservoir or electricity. Lee spent six months of the year
there starting to develop the farm. He has imported a total of 69 tons
of corn from Cambodia to Korea so far.

Of course, the project
is not without difficulties. Because of the high humidity and
temperature, corn becomes easily molded. A large amount of corn is
wasted because of the toxin from mold.

“We are now building a
drying storage facility. When it is completed in June, we’ll no longer
need to worry about mold,” he said. South Chungcheong provided 39
million won for the facility.

In July 2009, Lee and local
residents formed a farming cooperative association. Lee gave them corn
seeds and taught them how to grow corn. The number of cooperative
members increased rapidly as Lee promised to purchase all harvested
corn. Now it has 1,400 members and the number is expected to reach
3,000 next month.

“Buying and cultivating lands on one’s own
can be stable but it costs too much money,” said Cho Rae-cheong, a
deputy director at the Agriculture Ministry. “It is a good idea to
spread the risks by purchasing from the cooperative.”

“The
price of grain surged in 2008 and some 50 companies went abroad to
establish overseas food production bases but they have exported only a
small amount of grain to Korea,” said a ministry official. “But large
exports will help stabilize food prices here.”
Korea Joong Ang Daily
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Categories: Local News
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