Fri, Aug 12, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Rethinking marketplace agriculture

By Lo Chu-ping 羅竹平

Let’s review how this might work in practice. A restaurant in Miaoli County commits to buying 15 catties of yams from a farmer at NT$35 per catty. If the market price subsequently falls the farmer then accepts an order for 20 catties from a certain elementary school in Greater Kaohsiung for only NT$30 per catty, as he is still making a profit on them.

If the market price then increases, a housewife in Taipei purchases three catties at NT$40 each, which she believes to be eminently reasonable. The following morning, the farmer sends 38 catties of yams to the “farm direct” premises, where they are checked, divvied up, packaged, and shipped to their respective destinations. He can then send the remaining 12 catties to the traditional wholesale market.

In the interests of establishing a favorable and reliable trading environment, the service provided by the system should aim for a level of quality assurance to rival even the best major retailers.

This would include recording and making available product details online, different kinds of packaging, quality tests and an interactive customer evaluation system.

In addition, trained researchers should provide farmers with regular assessments of agricultural products. If the system does manage to attain this level of quality control it could also look at the possibility of exporting goods.

The council plans on training about 2,000 professional staff versed in production and marketing information who, if equipped with digital cameras and laptops, would be able to upload information about products on behalf of the elderly farmers, information such as the history, category and quality of products, and help them process customers’ orders. With this system, together with an efficient haulage and waste management mechanism, customers would be able to buy safe agricultural products at prices not much higher than wholesale prices.

Lower prices would also mean higher demand, which would increase jobs in the industry, bring more farmland into use and cut down the amount of imported farm produce. It would also enable farmers to turn a profit even when selling their produce at near wholesale prices, thereby making them less reliant on government subsidies.

Established, reputable companies could be brought in to provide management services. Last, but certainly not least, even though the system would have been set up with government support and corporate assistance, the government should offer shares to farmers at preferential rates, according to the size of their land and the market value of their produce. This would mean that the system would be both owned by and run for the farmers.

Before long a few landowners would be able to rent land to many tenant farmers, which is to say that elderly farmers would not only receive rent, they would also benefit from share ownership. Letting out land for agricultural use would increase yields in real terms, ensuring the proposed system operates smoothly and increases the wealth of its shareholders.

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