Tue, Jul 19, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Protest goes beyond farmers’ rights

By Chan Shun-kuei 詹順貴

Members of the public rarely get a chance to express their frustration face to face with the president. However, banana growers recently got the chance to complain to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) about the government’s handling of the current banana surplus, but Ma simply replied: “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

This stunning response was enough to leave one in despair and it just goes to show what little regard the government has for farmers and agriculture in this country.

The past couple of years have been particularly bad for farmers. The stress from a wave of land expropriations last year led some to attempt or commit suicide and more were driven to suicide this year with a drop in grain prices. Toiling on the land under the fierce summer sun reportedly caused further deaths.

In contrast, speculators benefited from big cuts in land appreciation taxes thanks to amendments to the Land Tax Act (土地稅法) in 2005. Capitalists did well from a significant fall in inheritance and gift taxes that followed from amendments to the Estate and Gift Tax Act (遺產及贈與稅法) in 2009. Similarly, corporations were helped out by additional tax breaks, financial incentives and cheaper long-term water and electricity bills introduced under last year’s Industrial Innovation Act (產業創新條例). On top of that, public servants received a 3 percent salary increase, while benefits for armed forces veterans have gone up by NT$600 a month.

However, as soon as the idea of increasing agricultural subsidies is broached, the government says the coffers are empty. Fertilizer and insecticide keep getting more expensive, while prices for agricultural products and land are constantly fluctuating. Farmers are left with nothing and yet are saddled with the responsibility of providing inexpensive grain to feed people in the cities. How is this fair?

On July 17 and July 18 last year, thousands of farmers and supporters packed Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei to protest against the government’s policy of abusive land expropriations. Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) responded by saying the government would set aside and conserve areas of land for agricultural use. He said that such land would only be used for national development projects when absolutely necessary and only when there was no other suitable land available.

The problem is that this designated agricultural use land is often flat terrain, complete with farm roads and waterways, which makes it ideal for redevelopment, as costs can be kept low and profits high. For this reason, expropriations have continued.

Studies show that during the past year at least 10,000 hectares of farmland nationwide, the vast majority of which is in areas zoned for agricultural use, have come under threat of being reassigned for non-agricultural development. Projects in the planning stages include the Taiwan Northeast Coast National Scenic Area, the Jiyang (吉洋)-designated area in Greater Kaohsiung and the areas surrounding the Central Taiwan Science Park’s (CTSP) Erlin (二林) development site in Changhua County.

Those being implemented include: urban expansion in Tucheng District (土城) and the area around Taipei Harbor in New Taipei City (新北市); the Hsinchu Science Park, Taiwan Knowledge Economic Flagship Park and the Cyonglin Township (芎林) expansion — all in Hsinchu County; and the Sinan (溪南) industrial zone in Wurih District (烏日), the Taichung High Speed Rail (HSR) Station gateway area and the area surrounding the CTSP’s Taichung base — all in Greater Taichung.

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