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SEJONG, March 20 (Yonhap) -- The number of South Koreans moving away from cities to rural areas reached a record high last year, although fewer people were freshly taking up farming as their profession, government tally showed Thursday.
In 2013, the number of urban households moving to provincial regions jumped 20 percent on-year to a new high of 32,424, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Such a growth may represent a reverse in the long-witnessed trend of rural to urban migration throughout the country's industrialization period, the ministry said.
The number of households migrating from urban areas to farming villages was 880 in 2001. The number came to 10,503 in 2011.
The government had often shown concerns that the persistent outflow of people, especially the young, from rural areas will add to the growing problem of aging population, which in turn may seriously undermine the overall competitiveness of the farming industry.
"The rise in the number of people moving to rural areas will not only help maintain or boost the labor force for the farming sector but also enhance the energy and vitality of the agricultural industry and rural communities," the ministry said in a press release.
"It will also help create jobs in rural communities while helping resolve the issue of overcrowding in urban areas," it added.
But the tally showed the number of households declaring farming as their new profession dropped 2.6 percent on-year to 10,923.
The data suggest that the other 21,501 households that migrated to rural areas in 2013 may have simply retired to the countryside, though they still may engage in farming activities. The government provides a wide range of benefits for people who take up farming for means of livelihood, including tax breaks and subsidies for the purchase of farmland or farming facilities.
The tally showed more of the younger generation were moving to rural areas, directly affecting the overall number of economically active population in non-urban communities.
In 2013, a total of 12,318 households headed by people in their 40s or younger had moved to the countryside, a 37.9 percent spike from 10,729 in the previous year.
By area, 8,499 households, the largest portion, migrated to Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds Seoul, with 4,046 households moving to North Chungcheong Province, also located near the capital.
The ministry said it will create new business opportunities in the farm sector so that more people would be encouraged to settle in rural regions.
"The government will shift its focus from a policy that sought to simply increase the number of people moving to farm villages to a policy that will seek to revitalize those villages, as well as the whole farming sector," it said.
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