Sat, Oct 13, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Farmers deserve a helping hand

By Du Yu 杜宇

Compared with industry and commerce, the relative weakness of the agricultural sector and the collective weakness of farmers have seen governments around the world adopt different measures to protect their agricultural industries.

As much as NT$70 billion to NT$80 billion (US$2.4 billion to US$2.74 billion) of Taiwan’s annual agricultural budget of almost NT$100 million is spent on subsidies. However, official information shows that annual incomes for farmers in Taiwan are still very low, on average less than NT$200,000.

Farming is tough work that does not reward farmers as well as they deserve. Many farmers have to go so far as to take out loans to stay in business and this has led to many young people going to places like Australia and New Zealand to work in farming to make some money.

Unchecked agricultural subsidies have contributed to huge financial burdens, lower usage rates for farmland, idle farmland and even the abandonment of farmland. This clearly shows that the way Taiwan uses its agricultural funds and the way subsidies are given out have now reached a stage where they need to be totally rethought.

Because standards for those applying for subsidies for fallow farmland are more lax, and because of a lack of effective monitoring of those receiving these payments, many people have been able to exploit the related laws.

This has generated widespread concern about phoney farmers taking government subsidies. However, so far, the relevant government bodies have failed to deal with this problem and this has seen an increase in the number of fake farmers claiming these subsidies, putting further strain on national finances.

A few days ago during an interview with the media, without even being asked, officials from the Council of Agriculture said that as much as 60 percent of the approximately 160,000 farmers who receive two lots of subsidies per year for farmland over 50,000 hectares that has been left fallow were not farmers at all.

Likewise, according to a survey on farmers’ incomes conducted by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS), 40 percent of elderly “farmers” who receive subsidies are not engaged in agricultural work.

I believe investigative agencies should get to the bottom of this and force civil servants to give law-abiding farmers an explanation as to just what is going on.

Agricultural subsidies are the most frequently used policy tool by countries around the world to protect agriculture. Initially most countries adopted price support mechanisms for agricultural products.

However, as trade liberalization started and financial burdens became heavier, most nations made the gap between farmers’ output and their incomes the major focus of their policies. Taiwan on the other hand is still using price support polices. The current way Taiwan carries out agricultural subsidies has many aspects worthy of closer scrutiny.

For example, advanced Western nations also give out subsidies for farmland that is left fallow, but also emphasize “environmental subsidies,” whereas Taiwan merely emphasizes the quantity and amount involved in the subsidies given out while neglecting environmental management methods. This has caused large amounts of land going to waste, with pests causing further damage and polluting water sources.

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