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(Yonhap Interview) S. Korea needs to spread its development knowhow: U.N. official

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, Aug. 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea should share its knowhow on rapid economic development with underdeveloped countries in an effort to help them rise from rags to riches, the head of a United Nations body said Wednesday.

"Here in Korea, you have accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience, transforming your economy from an aid-dependent country in the 1970s and 1980s into an aid-giving country," Kanayo F. Nwanze, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul.

South Korea has developed in such a way that it has a lot to offer to the international community like its path toward development, its transformation of economy and social development, he said.

"My understanding is that South Korea's highest authorities and South Koreans believe they have benefited a lot from the international community when they were dependent on aids, so they have accumulated knowledge and want to return something to the international community," the IFAD president said. "It's a very lofty mission."

Nwanze left South Korea later in the day, concluding his three-day visit intended to upgrade the fund's partnership with South Korea, which the president called "a very significant player" in international development assistance.

The IFAD is one of the three United Nations-commissioned agencies on agricultural development along with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP). Its mission is more focused on mobilizing resources to invest in rural development than the other two. Nwanze was re-appointed earlier this year as the organization's president for a second four-year term.

The IFAD particularly wants to benefit from South Korea's experience in the village unit-based rural development movement launched in the early '70s by former President Park Chung-hee, the father of current President Park Geun-hye, he said.

"There is very strong convergence with the way IFAD operates. There is mutuality, which makes it very attractive for IFAD to be able to say this is South Korea's experience that can be transferable to other countries," Nwanze said.

Under the policy called the Saemaeul Movement, the government distributed free cement to village units and mobilized villagers to modernize the rural areas that were then lagging far behind their urban counterparts that achieved substantial post-war development following the devastating three-year conflict on the peninsula.

Despite the major role the so-called new village movement played in improving and enlarging irrigation facilities and farmland thereby eventually increasing food production, the policy is also severely criticized for its part in helping the elder Park maintain his dictatorship from 1963 until he was assassinated in 1979 by the then-chief of the intelligence agency. The policy is also criticized for the way it controlled and influenced the village people.

Nwanze said the Korean experience may have to be touched up somewhat before being applied to other countries.

"That is not like one-size-fits-all, it has to be adapted to each environment, each region and each cultural setting," he said, adding that he is aware that some Asian and African states are now adapting the movement in their nations.

The Nigerian-national leader also hailed the recent growth of South Korea's official development assistance to poorer countries, saying that such improvement has been reflected in the evolvement of South Korea's relationship with the fund.

In 2000, South Korea vowed to contribute 0.25 percent of its gross domestic product as official development assistance to foreign countries, a sharp rise from its previous pledge to commit only 0.1 percent, he said.

"Prior to 2010, it was less than US$1 billion, and it has grown to 1.15 billion and is still increasing," the president said.

South Korean contribution to the IFAD has also grown, with the Asian country committing itself to chipping in $6.9 million for the period of 2010-12, compared with just $3 million for the 2007-9 period, according to the fund.

Besides the regular contribution, South Korea has paid $1.8 million in supplementary aids intended to promote information technology-based agriculture development in India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea.

During his recent visit here, he met with South Korea's agriculture minister, a vice finance minister as well as officials from the Korean International Cooperation Agency and the Export-Import Bank of Korea in order to discuss ways to scale up cooperation with the country.

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