Taiwan is home to many different ethnic groups. It would be difficult to imagine another such small island somewhere in the world holding more than a dozen different Aboriginal peoples. As both traditional hunters and sedentary farmers, these peoples have been here for at least 4,000 to 5,000 years. However, for various reasons, such as colonization, migration and war, many Han Chinese have moved here. This group started to develop the mountain regions, setting off disputes over land and development that have resulted in overdevelopment. This is the ugly part of Taiwan that was pointed out in the documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above (看見台灣).
Under the rule of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), the government helped veterans to settle and develop the mountain regions; the land lease and afforestation policy also stems from this period. Cingjing (清境) in Nantou County was developed as a result of a government initiative to promote leisure agriculture and bed-and-breakfasts. However, it also gave rise to a large number of illegal establishments. While the problem is the result of many people breaking the law, the government has also long ignored these business operations.
To develop and preserve the mountain regions, the government gave up four large state-owned farms to forest development and banned commercial development of mountain regions 1,500m above sea level. While this was a good policy, complementary measures were lacking and the policy was later abandoned due to an inability to communicate with people living in the mountain areas. Although the policy to recover leased forest land remains in place, it has yet to produce concrete results, partly due to a low budget. The budget needs to be increased, and leased forest recovery and afforestation should be continued even if there is a change in national government.
Although a mixed farming and forestry policy has been suggested to solve the problem with mountain agriculture, a three-year study conducted by National Taiwan University’s College of Bio-Resources and Agriculture shows that unless organic farming or low-density planting is adopted and assistance is given to farmers to help them establish quality brands and develop a domestic market, such a policy would do more harm than good. Developing mountain agriculture is very difficult, because large- volume production and overuse of the land can have a very high social cost.
As the nation experiences several typhoons every year and is located in an earthquake zone, landslides are a natural occurrence. However, overdevelopment of the land could make landslides a serious problem. The Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Central Geological Survey has conducted a survey to pinpoint potential areas that are sensitive to geological disaster. The results of the survey should be made public, and relevant government ministries should submit a comprehensive review of the current land development situation within their areas of jurisdiction in order to solve any problems.
A politician once created an uproar by saying that the Forestry Bureau’s leased land reclamation and afforestation policy was “incredibly stupid.” Later, the government’s announcement of its plan to transfer jurisdiction over forests to the Ministry of Finance’s National Property Bureau drew strong criticism in academic circles. Concern has also been raised over allegations that Liu Cheng-chih (劉政池), the brother of Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻), was illegally occupying public land in Yangmingshan National Park, which was also connected to the National Property Bureau. Think about it: If large areas of forests are managed by the National Property Bureau, will it chop up large pieces of land into smaller lots that are first leased out and then sold, as was the case with Yangmingshan National Park? This is something to which the government must give some serious consideration before making a decision.