SEOUL - A South Korean provincial government has leased a major plot of farmland in the central Philippines to grow corn as part of Seoul's bid for food security, officials said Thursday.
They said Jeonnam Feedstock, a company set up by South Jeolla province, signed a contract in April to lease 95,000 hectares (231,400 acres) of land for 25 years in Oriental Mindoro province.
Jeonnam Feedstock plans to plant 1,000 hectares of corn for experimental purposes as early as September to produce 10,000 tons of feed in the first year.
"Feedstock prices surged last year, resulting in the suicide of three farmers last year in this province alone," Lim Young-Muk, an official in charge of the project, told AFP by phone from the southwestern Korean province.
"In order to lock in stable supplies of feed, we need to build overseas feed bases," he said, declining to estimate how much food the total plot would yield.
Lim said South Jeolla became the first provincial government to benefit from a newly-created central government fund to develop farmland overseas. He said it received a cheap loan of $1.9 million for the Mindoro project.
Lim said such projects are allowed with a Filipino partner. "We have a respected Filipino company as our project partner," he said, declining to name it.
Provincial governments in wealthy but resource-poor South Korea are also developing farmland in Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia and Russia.
Such projects by Korea and other countries have sometimes been controversial, with critics in recipient countries seeing them as exploitative.
Last year South Korea's Daewoo Logistics said it had won initial approval from the Madagascar government to lease 1.3 million hectares of farmland -- half the size of Belgium.
But the deal faced collapse amid political unrest there partly sparked by the project.
Hyundai Heavy Industries said in April it had acquired a majority stake in a company cultivating 10,000 hectares of farmland in Russia's Far East.South Korea is the world's fifth largest food importer, relying on foreign suppliers for 74 percent of its needs.