Climate change could soon turn the South Korean mainland into a producer of bananas, mangoes and passion fruit, it's been reported.
Bananas already grow on sub-tropical Jeju Island off the southern coast, but farmers elsewhere are reporting successes, according to the daily Kyunghyang Sinmun.
Agronomists in Heunghae in the south-east of the country say "planting went smoothly" last year, and that farmers expect to harvest the fruit in mid-March, while their counterparts in Taean County in the south-west hope to gather their bananas in February.
Experts in both regions agree that the common factor is global warming. They have been experimenting with growing bananas and other fruit in greenhouses for years, but have noticed definite changes since last autumn.
Banana flowers appeared in Heunghae in November, and the authorities in the wider Pohang area see a chance to revitalise the regional economy, the JoongAng Ilbo daily reports.
The Pohang Agricultural Technology Centre raises the hope that bananas could boost farmers' incomes far in excess of what they can earn from planting rice - if properly implemented.
The farmers are making great claims for the quality of their crops as well, saying samples show a higher sugar content than is found in imported bananas - as well as the possibility of a greater yield. "We expect 50kg of fruit from each tree, as opposed to usual the 30-35 kg average," one farmer told Kyunghyang Shinmun, attributing this to the "abundance of sunshine in Taean".
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Other regions of South Korea also see the need to come to terms with climate change, as the Rural Development Department expects the area of the country classified as sub-tropical to increase from 10.1% in 2020 to 26.6% in 2060, and rising to 62.3% in 2080, Kyunghyang Sinmun reports.
Haenam County's agricultural development agency in the far south-west has already been experimenting with bananas, mangoes and even coffee for nearly two years, the Aju Business Daily news site reported at the time.
'Awesome or terrifying'
Pohang is also looking into the practicalities of coffee crops, and has sent farmers north to Jeonju and even Gangwon Province on the frontier with North Korea to share their experience with banana cultivation.
South Korea last made the headlines with bananas last year, when a supermarket launched a new type of packaging meant to keep the fruit riper for longer.
But the prospect of a sub-tropical South Korea has not convinced everybody. T.K, who blogs at Ask a Korean!, is "not sure whether this is awesome or terrifying".
Reporting by Alistair Coleman and Martin Morgan
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