Tue, Nov 01, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Protecting farmland by caring for farmers

By Hsu Shih-jung 徐世榮

The dispute over Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vice presidential candidate Su Jia-chyuan’s (蘇嘉全) farmhouse has caused much controversy over the past month, with new developments almost every day. Now there are reports that several Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials also have luxurious farmhouses.

Council of Agriculture officials appeared to hew to the principle that agricultural land should be used for agricultural purposes only and accused Su of violating this principle, as if they were the guardian’s of Taiwan’s farmland.

However, now that the same allegations have been leveled against KMT officials, council officials have become strangely quiet. Given this stark contrast, one cannot help but ask whether they are really concerned about agricultural land.

Article 10 of the Agricultural Development Act (農業發展條例) states: “The delimitation or change of agricultural lands to non-agricultural purposes shall not affect the integrity of production environments and shall be subject to the prior approval of the competent authorities.”

As the authority in charge, the council is supposed to play a key role in preserving agricultural land. The question is whether it has lived up to that responsibility or has it worked with local governments and other agencies to release land for other uses whenever necessary?

Data show that the council has often adopted the second approach.

The nation’s agricultural land is shrinking by an average of more than 13,000 hectares a year, roughly the equivalent of half of Taipei City, or 500 Da-an Forest Parks.

This land is mainly re--designated urban land and many of the changes are directly related to land expropriation. Examples include the science park expansion projects in Dapu (大埔) and Wanbao (灣寶) boroughs of Miaoli County and Siangsihliao (相思寮) in Changhua County; the special district for the Taiwan High Speed Rail’s Changhua Station in Tianjhong Township (田中); and the Puyu Development Plan in Erchongpu Village (二重埔) in Hsinchu County.

With the exception of the Wanbao case, has the council rushed forward to protect agricultural land as it did in the case of Su’s farmhouse? Has it insisted that agricultural land can only be used for agricultural purposes in any of these cases?

If the council has such little concern for farmland, how can we expect it to take care of farmers?

The principle that agricultural land should be used for agricultural purposes must be connected to efforts to increase farmers’ income, because the policy would otherwise be difficult to implement.

The government requires farmers to use their land for agricultural purposes in order to increase food self-sufficiency and restricts land use through the Non-urban Land Use Control Regulations (非都市土地使用管制規則). However, the government should also provide subsidies where necessary to ensure that farmers can make a living in today’s competitive market.

In Switzerland, the government provides direct environmental and cultural subsidies of between NT$1.2 million (US$40,000) and NT$1.5 million to each farming household per year.

How much does the Taiwanese government provide? Is the increase in the monthly subsidy for elderly farmers by NT$316 enough? Perhaps council officials need to be reminded that Su’s is not the only plot of agricultural land in Taiwan. As for farmers, they surely deserve more than a NT$316 increase in their monthly subsidy.

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