From the Guardian Sept 12 2003
Lee Kyoung-Hae had written about his plight, but few had read his words. He had protested about the way he and other peasant farmers were being bullied out of business, but felt he was being ignored.
Yesterday Lee finally got the World Trade Organisation to focus on the ruinous policies that have left farmers in his native South Korea on the brink of disaster, but it took his death - by his own hand - to turn global attention his way.
"I am 56, a farmer from South Korea who has strived to solve our problems ... but who has mostly failed like many other farm leaders elsewhere," he said.
"Soon after the Uruguay round of the Gatt (now the WTO) was signed in 1992 [opening Korean markets to rich countries and allowing the dumping of rice and other foods] we farmers realised that our destinies were out of our hands. We could do nothing but watch our lovely rural communities being destroyed. To make myself be brave, I searched for the real reasons for this."
Lee, a former MP, concluded that WTO policies had led directly to the impoverishment of hundreds of millions of small farmers worldwide and in February this year he set up a one-man protest, living in a tent outside the WTO offices in Geneva with banners reading "WTO Kills".
"I am crying out my words to you that have boiled so long in my body," he said. "It is a fact that since the WTO agreement, we have never been paid our production costs. Sometimes prices dropped to a quarter of what they used to be. How would your emotional reaction be if your salary dropped suddenly to a half without knowing clearly the reason?"
Many Korean farmers, said Lee, had left for the urban slums. Others had accumulated huge debts.
"Once I ran to a house where a farmer abandoned his life by drinking a toxic chemical because of his uncontrollable debts. I could do nothing but listen to the howling of his wife. If you were me, how would you feel?"
Like many others in poorer countries newly opened to free trade, Lee rejected the WTO mantra that the world's peasant farmers could trade their way out of trouble. They were not able to compete with rich-country subsidies, and needed protection, he said.
"Earning money by trade is not the way [small farmers want] to secure food. My warning goes to all citizens that uncontrolled multinational corporations and a small number of big WTO members' officials are leading to an undesirable globalisation of inhumane, environment-distorting, farmer-killing and undemocratic [policies]. It should be stopped immediately, otherwise the false logic of neo-liberalism will perish the diversity of global agriculture and [bring] disaster to all."