FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Republic of Korea

CASE 16 -- Smart village initiative of Republic of Korea – cases of PyeongChang, Jeju Island and Cheongdo

One of the biggest challenges facing rural areas of the Republic of Korea (ROK) is an aging population. According to the recent census by Statistics Korea (202023), people over the age of 60 account for more than 60 percent of total rural population, and the aging trend is accelerating. Among the many consequences of this trend is the threat to domestic food security and the delicate issue of social exclusion, as many elderly farmers live alone.

To counter these trends, the national government has been implementing various infrastructure modernization projects targeting rural areas and giving emphasis to digital innovations to reduce the rural-urban digital divide. Among the stated goals is to attract younger generations to live and work in rural areas, rejuvenate the rural population, and help increase the quality of living of elderly people in remote rural areas. 

As part of these efforts, in 2001, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety launched the “Information Network Village” to reduce the rural-urban digital divide. The initiative began with pilot projects in 25 villages and by 2015 had extended to 398 villages. Under this initiative, a significant effort of internet connectivity was launched and largely achieved, allowing the majority of residents’ internet access. More recently, the government, in collaboration with its private partner Korea Telecom, has expanded into 5G coverage to enhance internet connectivity of rural areas, as well as providing learning opportunities for elderly people. Local governments then shifted focus to programmes and initiatives aiming to increase rural households’ incomes using the digital infrastructure. The types of initiatives and programmes enacted differed from one location to the next, depending on the situation and characteristics of each region’s needs and priorities. Below are some examples of digitalization initiatives of villages and small rural townships.

 In the city of PyeongChang, home to the 2018 Winter Olympics, the Windvil[의야지바람] information network village is a successful case of this initiative. In order to promote local tourism associated with the Winter Olympics, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, in collaboration with the local government, installed Augmented Reality experience spaces, leveraging the 5G network so visitors could take a virtual tour of the local farmers’ market, and buy local products online. Visitors can also enjoy Augmented Reality games, which use graphics of local tourist attractions captured by drones as well as images of the Winter Olympic arenas.

In addition to enhancing tourism, the local government developed an e-commerce platform to sell local products and increase farming incomes. With the 5G e-commerce platform, the sales of local products increased seven-fold, compared to previous years. The project also supported farmers by installing radar and cameras, which connect to animal repellent apparatus that protect farms and their products from the invasion of wild animals.

“People over the age of 60 account for more than
60 percent of total rural population, and the
aging trend is accelerating. To counter these trends,
the government has been implementing various
infrastructure modernization projects targeting
rural areas and giving emphasis to digital
innovations to reduce the rural-urban digital divide.
The initiative began with pilot projects in 25 villages
and by 2015 had extended to 398 villages.

Jeju Island, the biggest island located in the far southern part of the Korean Peninsula, offers another successful case of the national government’s ‘smart town pilot project’. Jeju, and the other islands in its region, depend heavily on fisheries, tourism and seafood cultivation, yet these sectors are experiencing the same aging trends as elsewhere. According to Statistics Korea (2020), the number of fishery farmers in Jeju Island has been reduced by half over a 15 year period and approximately 40 percent of those remaining are over the age of 65. The Ministry of Science and ICT, in collaboration with the local government, invested approximately USD 2 million in developing 5 smart towns in Jeju. This smart town scheme aims to provide necessary services to rural people living in these areas using ICT-based equipment. For example, the Internet of Things (IoT) interactive devices will be supplied to detect the health conditions of the older rural population. In addition, a prototype of a self-driving shuttle bus will be operated to attract tourists and also make transportation for residents more easily accessible.

In connection to Jeju’s unique cultural asset known as Haenyeo [해녀], female divers who harvest marine products such as abalone, mollusks, and seaweed, the smart city initiative also includes the introduction of geo-fencing26 a technology-based security and information system. While Haenyeo’s cultural value is highly regarded, and was inscribed on the UNESCO cultural heritage list, the number of Haenyeo women is decreasing due to age and difficulty in finding replacements, owing, in part, to the dangerous nature of their work. Therefore, a smart diving computer connected with the information system will be distributed to those remaining Haenyeo to ensure their security during their work under the sea. 

Sindori, a smart village in Cheongdo county, is another example of this smart town initiative. Located in the centre of the country, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety invested USD 1.2 million in 2020 to turn the town into a “smart city.” Similar to projects in Jeju Island, the Sindori smart village provides artificial intelligence (AI) enabling robots to take care of elderly people living in remote areas, and which comprise some 20 percent of the town’s population. Through this device, these elderly citizens can be easily connected with their families in other cities, as well as keep tabs on their basic health status and respond promptly to any emergency health or security situation.

Furthermore, the smart village initiative aims to increase farming incomes using high-tech ICT devices. For example, the project sponsors technologies which alert the potential risk in cultivation with image analysis, and also detects and notifies about accidents and damages to machinery. The project will also construct a pilot complex to showcase the smart farming technologies and train farmers, as well as develop a virtual farmers market to attract customers in urban areas. The government expects farming revenue to increase by at least 10 percent using this new platform.