Thu, Feb 02, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Farmland policy needs a shake-up

By Peng Tso-kwei 彭作奎

For the sake of sustainable agricultural development and food security, government departments should immediately suspend or scrap existing regulations on the building of housing on farmland. Those who purchase and use farmland in ways that violate the regulations should have a farmland occupation tax levied on them and a three-to-five-year house-building ban placed on the farmlands they own. This would give related ministries sufficient time to amend the Agricultural Development Act and prevent drawn-out amendment procedures from allowing the loss of farmland to continue unchecked.

The government should be more proactive in adjusting policies related to the structure of agriculture and the revival of fallow paddy fields. The authorities should also assist and lead small-scale farmers in establishing “farming to order,” encouraging existing farmers and agribusiness to engage in contract production that would allow small-scale farmers to operate as satellite farms for agribusinesses. This would help solve problems of agricultural production and marketing.

There are some kinds of agriculture that require large amounts of capital and high-tech equipment, such as facility agriculture and plant factories that employ things like biotechnology, environmental control and automation to break through normal agricultural constraints of season and space. In such cases, the government should improve the investment environment for agribusinesses and provide them with tax incentives to produce high-end agricultural products.

More important still, the government needs to be more proactive in developing markets for Taiwanese agricultural products in China, and it also needs to improve the structure of agricultural production and upgrade it. Current policies regarding Chinese agricultural products are overly protective, lacking an overall strategy and incapable of maximizing Taiwan’s agricultural advantages.

Despite China and Taiwan having signed the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), marketing of Taiwan’s agricultural products in China is still at an early stage and a long time is still needed before steady marketing channels and regular groups of consumers can be formed.

The government should take quicker action to overcome marketing and transport bottlenecks affecting Taiwanese agricultural products sold in China, and it should gradually explore and establish systems and modes of cooperation that are more in line with the respective characteristics and interests of Taiwan and China. We should move away from the current purchasing pattern in which China buys up Taiwan’s otherwise unsellable agricultural products, and toward one of more regular direct purchasing. This would allow trade cooperation with China to revive the use of farmland and improve the structure of our agricultural production.

In addition, agricultural departments should not be left out of the ECFA. Permanent mechanisms for mutual aid and consultation should be established to make cross-strait trade in agricultural products more systematic. That will help lay the groundwork for entry into free trade agreements with ASEAN and other countries.

Peng Tso-kwei is a chair professor at Asia University and chairman of the Taiwan Society of Rural Development Planning.

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