The Great King Sejong initiated an active agricultural research and development (R&D) policy in Korea about 570 years ago. Famous for many scholarly and scientific achievements, including the creation of the Korean phonetic alphabet, he founded a national scholarly institute, known as the “Hall of Worthies,” encouraging the most talented scholars in the country to conduct a variety of research activities (Eckert et al. 1990). Sejong’s focus was on efforts to improve the welfare of the common people, including the promotion of agriculture to secure an adequate food supply. One part of his agricultural R&D effort was to transfer relatively advanced agricultural techniques used in the southern provinces to the north, where farmers were still using Chinese techniques that were not well suited to Korean conditions. King Sejong sent out officials from Seoul to study advanced agricultural technology and prepared a manual, “Straight Talk on Farming,” designed to help advisers and farmers suit their agricultural practices to the agronomic and climatic conditions on the peninsula. Based on survey data, the king reported that the average farming household in the province around Seoul could produce “several times” more using better farming methods. Recognizing the importance of climate to farmers, the crown prince invented a rain gauge, which ranks among the major technological achievements of the period. Every village in the country was required to report rainfall and the amount of rain absorbed into the soil (Eckert et al. 1990). Despite this impressive start, for many reasons, Korean agricultural R&D, Korean agricultural progress, and the Korean economy all languished for much of the next 500 years.
Choi, Jung-Sup; Sumner, Daniel A.; and Lee, Hyunok. 2006. Korea: Growth, consolidation, and prospects for realignment. In Agricultural R&D in the developing world: too little, too late? Pardey, Philip G.; Alston, Julian M.; Piggot, Roley R. (Eds.) Chapter 5. Pp. 105-128. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). http://ebrary.ifpri.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15738coll2/id/129630