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[Paper] Korea’s Rural Development Program 40 Years On Offers Timely Lessons

October 6, 2010

Below is an excerpt from a paper presented by The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Korea Edward Reed at the International Symposium in Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of Saemaul Undong (Korea’s integrated rural development movement of the 1970s) on Sep.30, 2010. Dr. Reed conducted extensive research in the Korean countryside during the height of the movement in the mid-70s.

In spite of rapid urbanization in most parts of the world over the past two decades, rural development remains a major challenge for developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. According to a recent World Bank report, “75 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas and most are involved in farming.” There is also new urgency for addressing rural problems generated by population pressure on land, water, and other resources, threats to the environment, climate change, and widening income disparity between rural and urban areas. National governments and international development assistance agencies are once again placing increased emphasis on rural and agricultural development as critical for reducing poverty and achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. If today’s programs are to achieve their objectives they must learn lessons from the many rural development initiatives pursued over the past decades.

One of these past programs was the Saemaul Undong, or New Community Movement, initiated by President Park Chung Hee in South Korea in the early 1970s. The purpose of this paper is to examine this program for lessons that might inform today’s rural development programs in developing countries. One reason for a close look at the Saemaul Undong (SMU) is the success achieved by Korea in a relatively short time (the decade of the 1970s) in raising incomes and improving living standards in rural areas, thus narrowing the urban-rural divide. There are many examples of failure in the world of rural development, so success certainly attracts attention and deserves to be celebrated and studied.

Read the full paper.

Edward Reed is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Korea. He can be reached at [email protected].

Related locations: Korea

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