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Jeju farmers go bananas for tropical fruit crops

Oct 14,2017
JEJU - Farmers on Jeju Island have turned to planting tropical fruits like papaya and lychee instead of the iconic gamgyul, Korean tangerine oranges, in response to global warming-induced temperature changes on the island.

Jeju farmers have been planting tropical fruits since the early 90s. Today, over a hundred farms in Jeju produce ten different kinds of tropical fruits. The average temperature in Jeju has risen 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1950 due to global warming, allowing farmers to plant profitable tropical fruits without having to heat the crops. Farmers are embracing the foreign crops, as they are happy to get away from the over-saturated domestic gamgyul market.

Lim Chae-yong had been planting gamgyul for the past seventeen years. But his dedication only left him earning a meager six million won ($5,315) last year for his labor. With the support of the Jeju government and his local Nonghyup office, he began growing passionfruit last year, for which he received 800 to 1,000 won per fruit from his first harvest last August. The passionfruit is known for its resilience to cold, and can grow as quickly as 20 to 30 centimeters (8 to 12 inches) per day, allowing for semi-annual harvests. Lim expects 40 million won in annual income once he harvests the tropical fruit again this November in all 3,967 square meters (13,000 square feet) of his farm. That will give him seven times the annual profit he got from planting gamgyul in previous years.

Jeju Agricultural Technology Institute has also joined the game, having recently undertaken a three-year-long research project to find the best farming techniques to harvest lychee. The entire domestic supply of lychee, a Chinese native, is currently imported from Vietnam and China. Because the storage time of lychee is short and it has to be transported frozen, the institute is hopeful that domestically-produced lychee will be highly competitive once it enters the market.

The rise in temperature has changed the face of farming on the island, as the area of land used to plant tropical fruits has increased 38 percent, from 372.3 hectares to 516.6 hectares, from 2009 to 2016. The total volume of produce has also increased 54.1 percent, from 6,420 tons to 9,892 tons, over the same period.

A researcher from the Agricultural Research Center for Climate Change remarked, “Because they will improve earnings in farming regions, we are dedicated to discovering new tropical crops to harvest.”


BY CHOI CHOONG-IL [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]