An evaluation of the Korean Natural Farming Association's alternative agricultural practices

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An evaluation of the Korean Natural Farming Association's alternative agricultural practices
Baker, Matt.
Farming Systems Support Project (FSSP), University of Florida,
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17. Z1

An Evaluation of the Korean Natural Farming Association's Alternative
Agricultural Practices: A Preliminary Look at Program Effectiveness

Matt Baker
Associate Professor
Agricultural Education and Communication
University of Florida
P.O. Box 110540
Gainesville, FL 32611-0540
Phone: (352) 392-0502
Fax: (352) 392-9585

Atsushi Koyama
Former Graduate Student
Farming Systems Research and Extension Specialization
Department of Agricultural Education and Communication
University of Florida

Peter Hildebrand
Food and Resource Economics
University of Florida

An Evaluation of the Korean Natural Farming Association's Alternative
Agricultural Practices: A Preliminary Look at Program Effectiveness


This quasi-experimental study was conducted to assess the Korean
Natural Farming Association's (KNFA) program effectiveness of alternative
agricultural practices. A survey questionnaire and personal interviews were
used to collect data from KNFA members. T-tests for single means were
utilized to compare KNFA agricultural production and farm income and labor
data with national averages. In terms of net income including family labor,
the results of this study favored the KNFA alternative agricultural practices
in red pepper production, farrow to finish swine production, and poultry
layer production. No statistically significant difference was found in rice
production. The subjective results of the interviews showed that KNFA
members had not adopted all of the recommend rice production practices.


In agricultural and rural development efforts in the Third World, an
increase in productivity has been long emphasized. In some regions, a rapid
increase of productivity was experienced as a result of the "Green
Revolution" in the 1960s and the 1970s. However, the production
techniques, which realized high yield but also required high inputs such as
fertilizer and pesticides, are being reconsidered as to whether they are the
best method for sustainable agricultural development. Concern has grown
that high inputs tend to cause environmental degradation and impose severe
cost burdens on small farmers.

The importance of indigenous knowledge systems in rural
development has been well documented (Martin & Rajasekaran, 1994; Elliot
& Martin, 1995). Han Kyu Cho has received credit for developing the body
of knowledge on natural farming in Korea (Cho, 1993-94, Koyama, 1994).
Being unable to attend junior high due to the Korean Conflict, Cho joined the
Korean 4-H to further his agricultural knowledge. As a teen, he was a
three-time recipient of the Korean 4-H Presidential Prize. In his 20s, he
began experimenting with natural farming techniques and established an
informal study group of interested farmers. Concurrently, the Republic of
South Korea promoted agricultural "modernization" with significant external
inputs and perceived Cho and his followers as a threat. Cho's dissemination
efforts were ultimately restricted.

In the 1990s, Cho's methods began to draw attention due to reported
high profitability. Cho established the Korean Natural Farming Association
(KNFA) which was officially registered as a non-profit organization in 1994.

In 1995, the KNFA began receiving federal funding and established the
Natural Farming Life School. Currently, the KNFA disseminates information
using only three methods. A one-week basic seminar is offered at the
Natural Farming Life School for up to 150 participants. Six courses for
basic school graduates are offered. Each course is offered in a four-day
period. Also, local study meetings are held across South Korea, primarily
for individual consultation.

KNFA farming has four basic components (Table 1). The first
component is that one's own view of living organisms affects production.
In a book authored by Cho (1994), he states,

A human cannot make what supports his life. He cannot even digest
what he [eats]. . Natural movement is not influenced by human
knowledge. Therefore, all living things have to know their own roles
that were assigned by nature as well as to accept and respect the
roles of others. A farmer has to produce, following this reason of
nature. (p.20)

The second component of natural farming emphasizes the roles of
microorganisms and enzymes in farming. Through culturing indigenous
microorganisms and applying them to soil and leaves, the diversification of
microbial ecologies in the soil and on the plant surface is promoted. Natural
inputs such as fermented plant juice and lactic acid bacteria serum
fermented similar to Kim-chee are manufactured and placed on plants.

A third component advocated by the KNFA is an understanding of
nutrioperiodism, first advocated by Oinoue (1949) in the 1930s.
Nutrioperiodism emphasizes differing nutritional requirements of crop plants
at differing plant stages. Finally, the KNFA recommends a crop-livestock
mixed farming system. An example system might involve four major
enterprises including a pear orchard (0.82 hectares) as a cash enterprise, a
rice paddy (0.43 hectares) for household consumption, a farrow to finish
swine operation (22 sows) as a cash enterprise, and cattle production (3
cows) as a cash or reserve enterprise.

Today, the KNFA is facing a number of challenges. First, there is a
lack of empirical knowledge supporting natural farming recommendations.
Second, there is a high demand for qualified instructors to deliver extension
programs. Finally, there has been no impact evaluations on KNFA

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this evaluation was to examine the effectiveness of

KNFA approved agricultural practices. The following specific objectives
Table 1

Components of Natural Farming



View of Nature and Farming

Use of Natural Organisms &

Attention to Nutrioperiodism

Small-Scale Crop/Livestock

Conventional farming is devoid of a
'systems understanding'
Use of indigenous microorganisms,
fermented plant juices, lactic acid
serum, fish amino acid, oriental herbal
nutrients, brown rice vinegar,
absorbable liquid minerals, & water
soluble calcium
Emphasizes differing nutritional
requirements at differing plant growth
Recommended system where animals
receive crop residues & crops receive
animal manure

established to guide this evaluative study:

(1) describe KNFA members,
(2) compare crop production records KNFA members to national
data, and
(3) compare livestock production records of KNFA members to
national data.

Methods and Data Sources

Data were collected from KNFA members in two stages. In February,
1995 a questionnaire was developed to collect economic and demographic
information on members. A panel of experts consisting of representatives
from the University of Florida and the KNFA was used to establish face and
content validity. This questionnaire was given to a census of farmers with a
minimum of 2.5 years experience with KNFA practices (N=100). Fifty-eight
percent of the questionnaires were completed and returned.

In June, 1995 a researcher conducted face-to-face interviews with 45
of the experienced KNFA farmers. The 45 farmers were purposefully

selected by KNFA officials based upon their potential to cooperate. KNFA
officials were asked not to consider the degree to which those surveyed had
adopted their recommended alternative agricultural practices. An interview
schedule was developed based upon the information collected by the
questionnaire. The interviews lasted from two to eight hours. Interview
data were collected for 42 days.

Most information collected was based upon the farmer's personal
memory, rather than written record. When information such as unit selling
price could not be recalled, secondary data were collected from the National
Agricultural Cooperative Federation (1995). Demographic information was
collected from all 45 members. Fifteen of the members provided data on all
farm enterprises (greenhouse horticulture, single or mixed crop enterprises,
a combination of crop and livestock enterprises, and livestock only

A comparison evaluation design (Kosecoff & Fink, 1982) was used for
this partial coverage program. Data collected from KNFA members were
compared with national agricultural statistics. Since random assignment
was not used in this quasi-experimental evaluation design, observed
differences must be interpreted with caution. According to Rossi and
Freeman (1993),

In the case of ongoing programs that serve only a small proportion of
program eligibles, it may not be important that the data source used
contains measures permitting the evaluator to identify who is not a
participant. For example, if public housing projects can serve only a
small fraction say 10 percent of those eligible, then a sample that
can identify eligible households, whether or not they are participants
in the program, can be used as controls. Although the use of such a
sample would underestimate the differences between participants and
controls because 10 percent of the latter were participants, the
resulting dilution may not be serious, especially when the estimated
effects are large. (p. 326)

Data were analyzed using the Quattro Pro spreadsheet program.
Descriptive statistics and t-tests for single means (comparing KNFA member
data with national data) were used to analyze the data. All hypotheses
were tested at the .05 alpha level.


As revealed in Table 2, KNFA members could be described as being
middle-aged (M =43.70, SD =9.60), with 4.5 family members per household
(SD= 1.50). They reported 5.30 years of natural farming experience

(SD =4.00). Their average farm size was 1.94 hectares (SD= 2.31), with
3.40 agricultural enterprises (SD =2.80). In terms of education, 53%
completed high school.
Table 2

Demographics of KNFA Members (n= 45)


Age 43.70 9.60
Number of family members in household 4.50 1.50
Years of Natural Farming experience 5.30 4.00
Average farm size in hectares 1.94 2.31
Number of enterprises 3.40 2.80
Number of Natural Farming enterprises 3.00 2.90

In terms of farm income and labor, significant differences between
KNFA members and national averages were found between net farm income
and total labor hours. The net farm income for members was 34.46 million
Korean won, as opposed to 9.45 million Korean won for all farmers
(t=5.33, p<.001). Members invested an average of 2,639 hours of labor
in their farms, compared to the national average of 1,448 (t= 3.16,

Red pepper is one of the most popular upland field crops in South
Korea. Approximately 4 kg of dried red pepper per capital is consumed per
year. The personal interviews revealed that the KNFA members adopted
most of the recommended practices for red pepper (Capsicum annuum)
production. Member yield was 59% greater than the national average
(t= 5.92, p<.001), consequently their net income including family labor
costs for red pepper production was over twice as high as the national
average (t= 5.33, p =.003). However, the researchers found that most
KNFA members had not adopted all of the recommended practices for rice
production (Secale cereale. No significant differences were found between
yield (t=-1.53, p=.187) and net income including family labor costs
(t = 1.20, p = .286), when compared with national averages.

Significant differences were also found in the two livestock enterprise
production systems that were examined. In terms of farrow to finishing
operations in swine, members generated almost twice as much net income
including family labor as the national average (t= 5.44, p =.002). In layer
production, members reported over four times the net income including
family labor as the national average (t=9.51, p<.001).

Conclusions and Recommendations

These findings indicate that natural farming is labor intensive. From a
productivity point of view, less labor is desired if income levels are the
same. From a farm labor intensity point of view, more labor per unit of land
area indicates greater land utilization. In Korea, one-half of the total
household net income of farmers is generated from off-farm labor. One of
the reasons might be that predominant monoculture operations, make it
difficult for small-scale farmers to organize their family labor to farm full-time
and efficiently. Free time encourages off-farm employment.

For red pepper production, the KNFA sample averaged a 59% greater
yield when compared with the national average. The KNFA net income was
more than twice the national average. Correspondingly, labor requirements
increased by 54% using the KNFA practices. This finding suggests that the
KNFA methods may generally realize higher yield and higher incomes, and
that they are more labor intensive when compared with conventional

Rice yield and income of the KNFA members were not identified as
significantly different from the national average. Most KNFA members had
not fully adopted the rice production techniques that were recommended.
These KNFA members could be categorized as 'transitional' natural rice
growers. For example, only 16% adopted no tillage farming. Most farmers
tended to believe that tillage was indispensable for rice farming. All farmers
however, used several natural inputs such as indigenous microorganisms
and fermented plant juice. Labor was significantly less than the national
average. This suggest that the limited natural farming methods adopted by
KNFA members reduced labor requirements.

KNFA members experienced a greater net income through lower
operating costs in the farrow to finishing swine operations. Feeder pig
costs were lower for the KNFA members because labor requirements were
less than one-half of the national average. This labor savings can be
contributed to KNFA manure handling techniques. The KNFA recommends
that 25
feeder pigs be placed in a 30 square meter pen. A foundational bedding
material consisting of sawdust, local soil, and sea salt is laid. As manure is
added, the bedding ferments. This allows animals to dig freely, and it is
hypothesized that this bedding technique reduces stress in growing animals.

In terms of layer production, the overall operational costs between

the KNFA members and the national average were about the same. Net
however, was more than four times the national average due to a higher
quality egg. Labor/bird was almost twice that of the national average, and
biological productivity was less than the national average. This suggests
that the KNFA methods can generally produce higher quality eggs which can
be sold at higher prices, though labor becomes more intensive.

This preliminary evaluation provides evidence that the KNFA is
resulting in behavioral change with positive economic consequences for
small farmers in Korea. However, the researchers acknowledge that a
stronger evaluation design is needed in order to substantiate these findings.
If subsequent program evaluations and empirical studies on recommend
practices are found to support the natural farming techniques advanced by
the KNFA, then there is the potential for the expansion of this educational
program throughout Asia.


Cho, H.K. (1993-94). Intuitive farming series. Contemporary
Agriculture (Japan).

Cho, H.K. (1994). Making the most of indigenous microorganisms.
Tokyo: Nobunkyo.

Elliot, A.V., & Martin, R.A. (1995). The development of a framework
for the evaluation of the capacity-building components in rural development
projects. Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education. 2
(1), 36-47.

Koyama, A. (1994). High profit through full use of local natural
resources: Korean natural farming. International Development Journal
(Japan). 455: 20-24.

Kosecoff, J., & Fink, A. (1982). Evaluation basics: A practitioner's
manual. Sage Publications, Inc. Newbury Park, CA.

Martin, R.A., & Rajasekaran, B. (1994). Incorporating indigenous
knowledge systems into agricultural and extension education programs: A
study of the perceptions of extension professionals in India. Journal of
International Agricultural and Extension Education. 1 (2), 13-21.

National Agricultural Cooperative Federation. (1995). Monthly
review. May. Seoul: Republic of Korea.

Oinoue, Y. (1949). The systematic theory of new cultivation
techniques. Tokyo: Kyo-hou-kai.

Rossi, P.H., & Freeman, H.E. (1993). Evaluation: A Systematic
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