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Climate change threatens Jeju agriculture

2023.01.26 11:06:00 Doyun Lee

[Photo of Interview with Jeju Tangerine Farmer Gwen Cheol Kim, Photo credit: Doyun Lee]

The negative impacts of climate change have directly fallen upon the Jeju agricultural producers.

Effects of climate changes that are repeatedly mentioned in the news are  the rising sea levels due to the melting ice caps in Switzerland and Greenland, but a topic not yet  discussed with any level of interest or concern is the problem that starts to sprout in the southern island of South Korea, Jeju. 

On Jeju Island itself, the annual average temperature has increased by 1OC over the course of ten years from 2000~2010, and a further 1.5OC increase in average temperature is predicted in 10 or so years looking at the steady increase in temperature over the years.

We can also see the evidence of this shocking effect of climate change spreading underwater as well.

The underwater temperature in the southern part of South Korea has increased by 1.5OC over the past 50 years, and this is three times the global temperature average increase.

This temperature increase due to the drastic change in climate, or ‘climate change’ is what has affected the Jeju tangerines.

Due to this climate change, the sugar content of Jeju tangerine is decreasing and hence, marketability has significantly reduced.

This decreases the quality of the tangerines compared to other high sugar content fruits, such as mangos, kiwis or even hallabong.

This also affects the farm operation as profit constancy maintenance is difficult, causing the general farm size to be reduced and  replaced with different, more profitable fruits.

The area that produced Jeju tangerine and farmed them was 25796  Ha in 2000, which is 14.1% of Jeju Island, but in 2021, it reduced to 19998 Ha which is only 10.8%.

Setoka and Hallabong, both hybrids of the tangerine, are replacing the growing space for tangerines,starting to take up the sales of the Jeju tangerine and going on to be increased in production and farm size.

As most tangerine farms were kept up by the same people for a long time, the aging population has troubles in understanding the new generations' modes of commercialization.

However, Gwen Cheol Kim, a Jeju private tangerine farmer that has been working for over 6 years, has stated that “Tangerine doesn’t drop in sugar content due to warmer temperature, as it actually gets higher sugar content when warmer temperature.”

Instead, he stated, “The reason for the lower sugar content can be argued because of the increased rain in Jeju, as rainwater isn’t likable for the tangerine trees.”

He further added, “As the amount of precipitation increases due to higher temperature, rather than the temperature directly affecting the decreasing sugar content in the Jeju tangerine, the sugar content decreases due to higher humidity and precipitation from the increase in temperature. This is because Jeju tangerines don't  require lots of water to grow.”

He still agreed on the reduced marketability of the fruit as he noted, “The production of Jeju tangerine is decreasing to some point as the general price of the tangerine is less than other hybrids. There are more greenhouse-grown hybrids and tangerines than the general Jeju tangerine which is grown outside.”

He further noted, “Most farmers' usage of fertilizers to the fruits kills the soil furthermore and also decreases the sugar content of tangerines by nearly 2 brix.”

It is not only the temperature and climate change that has an impact on Jeju agriculture— but the practice of agriculture itself that is also causing damage to the environment and nature as continuous usage of fertilizers causes eutrophication and the repeated growing of crops  leads to soil degradation.

Doyun Lee / Year 11
North London Collegiate School Jeju