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Jeju diversifies Korea’s most important crop; the tangerineJeju Hi-Tech Industry Development Institute is employed with the purpose of finding new markets for Jeju’s beloved fruit
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승인 2009.11.26  13:33:50
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Jeju’s tangerines serve a significant function on the island, which extends beyond that of being merely a juicy fruit for ones enjoyment. Because of their deliciousness, malleability and ubiquity, Jeju’s tangerines have been specifically ‘picked’ by the Korean National and Jeju Provincial governments to boost Korea’s position in today’s global market.

In particular, Korea’s farming industry creates 17% of the national GRDP (the other 80% consists mainly of service and factory industries). Tangerine related processes make up 60% of that 17% within the farming industry. Furthermore, Korean tangerines are only farmed on Jeju. These statistics illustrate the magnitude of Jeju’s tangerine industry. If tangerine season proves plentiful, then Jeju’s economic, service, and even transportation industries thrive as well. Much of Jeju’s livelihood is contingent upon the yearly success of the tangerine industry.

Jeju Hi-Tech Industry Development Institute
In 2003, the Korean government joined with Jeju’s Provincial government to establish a biotech research facility, entitled Jeju Hi-Tech Industry Development Institute [JHIDI], founded and operated on Jeju. The Institute was established on the island because of its natural diversity. The facility works toward focusing on one natural aspect of the island, then developing and marketing an entire industry around it. Eventually the researchers at the institute concluded that the most useful, unique and plentiful of Jeju’s vast natural resources was the tangerine.

Jeju has so many tangerines that in order to sell each one harvested, the entire Korean population would have to consume 15kg of tangerines in their lifetime. Additionally, many years ago, the tangerine was the only fruit for Koreans to eat in the winter, but as the countries global market grew so did the import of produce and Koreans could chose from a variety of fruits during the winter months. For these reasons the value of the tangerine began to drop. JHIDI was set to the task of creating new, innovative ways to market Jeju’s ubiquitous crop, thereby solving the surplus issue, and maintaining a thriving tangerine market.

As the Institute was conducting its research, the Asian FDA considered lowering the tax on tangerines in the Asian market. The Korean government worried that Jeju would become a less significant contender in the Asian market, so the government, with the help of JHIDI focused their efforts on 3 methods of marketing the tangerine in hopes to revalue the crop. These three marketing methods are biotechnology, tourism, and the traditional tangerine farming industry. Using biotechnology, new tangerine products that range from tangerine chocolates, to tangerine cosmetics were invented. The tangerine tourism industry includes day tours to farms where tourists can pick the fruit and experience farm life on Jeju. The traditional industry is that of farmers growing tangerines and selling their produce to the supermarkets for consumers. Each division is an invaluable piece in the current success of Jeju’s tangerine industry.

The man behind the industry: Kim Gi-Ok
Kim Gi-Ok has a PhD in Immunology and studied for years in Japan and the USA. He was raised in Jeju, on a tangerine farm in Seongsan, though he did not realize the intrinsic value of Jeju’s primary crop until he studied overseas. Kim heads the biotech team dedicated to marketing Jeju’s cash crop. While working for the institute, Kim discovered that the green, young tangerines have the most flavoniods and are therefore the healthiest. Kim and his team created tangerine cosmetic lines such as OLE, Gareum (a Jeju dialect word meaning ‘village’), and Pure Island. Each of these cosmetic brands are all-natural and because of their high tangerine content they have skin healing capabilities. Kim is dedicated to successfully marketing these products that he believes are truly health beneficial, and unique to Jeju; “Right now a shopper can buy a 10 kg box of Galchi [Korean hair tail fish] for the same price as my box of tangerine cosmetics. I hope to market this product well enough that gift shoppers eventually chose my unique cosmetics over the box of Galchi,” Kim said.

The research continues
Currently the Institute is looking to expand their business abroad, working with European companies to sell Jeju’s cosmetic products worldwide. The research facility is also conducting new research into the health benefits of organic tangerine rinds.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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