ACCORDING TO RECENT media reports, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Su-shan (林樹山) and fellow legislators are seeking to ammend Article 18 of the Agricultural Development Act (農業發展條例), lowering the required amount of agricultural area for a piece of agricultural land containing architectural structures from 0.25 hectares to 0.1 hectares.
If this amendment should pass a third reading, it would be tantamount to the deregulation of all agricultural land, inevitably causing great damage to our country.
This piece of legislation is not only concerned with construction of agricultural structures -- or holiday cottages -- but with whether our country still needs to maintain an agricultural industry.
The possession of agricultural land by farmers and the use of agricultural land for farming have been the two core components of Taiwan's previous agricultural policy. Yet with the social transformation of Taiwan and falling agricultural output figures, policies related to these two areas face serious challenges and are being fundamentally reformed.
The policy restricting agricultural land ownership to farmers was abandoned when amendments were made to the Agricultural Development Act in 2000: The owners and purchasers of agricultural land no longer need to be farmers, and property rights of agricultural land can now be transferred freely. The policy of agricultural land being reserved for agricultural uses has been subjected to similar concessions following enormous pressure from the construction industry. If Article 18 is altered, it will most likely be time to declare the end of the policies altogether.
Therefore, the serious issue which we face is this: If agricultural land no longer is reserved for farming, then what will be left of the agricultural industry?
Is it possible that we no longer wish to have an agriculture industry? What is the value of agriculture? Due to industrialization, the survival of agriculture has become extremely difficult. But consider these examples: Advanced nations such as Germany, the Netherlands and Japan are all actively protecting and developing their agricultural industries and agrarian outlook.
Taiwan needs to work in this direction more. Self-sufficiency in food supply is a security consideration for the country, and the enormous environmental, ecological, cultural, leisure and scenic value of agriculture dictates that we stress the continuity of the agriculture industry and not dismiss it with a narrow evaluation from a purely economic standpoint.
Though the preservation of agricultural land for agricultural purposes limits its use for other purposes, the measure is based on considerations of public welfare and social obligation, and does not infringe upon or deprive property owners of their constitutional rights.
Besides, the total deregulation of agricultural land without extensive planning does not guarantee a high standard of living, even if beautiful cottages are built on these sites.
Looking back on Taiwan's previous experience in urban development provides an answer: Prior to the passing of the Regional Planning Act (區域計畫法) and Non-Urban Land Use and Control Rules (非都市土地使用管制規則) in 1974, the development of agricultural land was basically unregulated. Many buildings were constructed on both sides of roads, resulting in disordered, leapfrog development.
Buildings were erected densely, but there was a lack of the many public infrastructure facilities required for daily life. Furthermore, without adequate planning, the quality of the living environment not only did not improve, but worsened. In the end, Der Spiegel described Taiwan as a pigsty. Today, in the 21st century, are we going to repeat the mistake?
Due to changing times, a partial deregulation of farmland is inevitable. Yet this change needs to be brought about through adequate planning and deliberation rather than through rushed attempts to lift limitations to allow building on agricultural land.
Currently, if the amendment is passed, almost every piece of agricultural land will be open to construction. The possible consequences are difficult to imagine.
Previously, the government promised that sustainable development would be a fundamental principle in policy making.
We cannot help but ask: Is this kind of deregulation in accordance with Taiwan's sustainable development? Should Taiwan retain agriculture? Would our standard of living be raised by deregulation? Is the government able to provide the enormous expense for public infrastructure after deregulation?
All of these issues deserve deep consideration before the finalization of the amendment.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor at the Department of Land Economics at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Angela Hong";
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