Mon, Sep 07, 2015 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Safeguarding the future of agriculture

The Council of Agriculture last week announced that it is planning to get 30,000 young people into the agricultural sector over the next 10 years, as the sector’s workforce is increasingly made up of aging farmers. The council’s statistics indicate that about 110,000 farmers are expected to retire in the next decade.

The council said its plans would see 18,000 young people move into farming by 2020, followed by 12,000 more from 2021 to 2024, with a total investment of NT$3.3 billion (US$100.5 million).

In addition to dealing with issues such as declining farm production, an aging workforce and a lack of efficiency on small farms, the council said that the project could enhance the livelihoods of young farmers, providing an annual net income of more than NT$1 million.

Despite the low pay and hard labor, compared with their previous lives as urban dwellers, young people moving into farming have the upper hand over their older colleagues in using social networking or other online options to market their produce and expand their customer base.

Young farmers are also more eager to protect rural farms from being acquired by people living in cities. They generally believe the protection of farmland and the rural landscape is part of their effort to become a part of the local agricultural population.

However, with the fragmentation of Taiwan’s farmland, young farmers still face the same old problem of higher production costs on smaller scales of production.

The increasing fragmentation of farmland began in 2000, when the legislature approved a number of amendments to the Agricultural Development Act (農業發展條例), including lifting the restriction barring non-farmers from purchasing or selling farmland.

The amended policy allowed for the construction of farmhouse-style villas on newly sold farmland and also opened up a back door to illegal factories and other buildings meant for non-agricultural purposes in rural areas.

The consequence of that deregulation is that speculation on farmland and building houses for non-agricultural use have become widespread over the past 15 years, particularly in Yilan, Nantou and Miaoli counties, even as the amount of unpolluted farmland decreases nationwide and some produce is not safe for human consumption.

One of the most outrageous land policy loopholes might finally be closed, after the Cabinet last week approved an amendment, with immediate effect, to the Regulations Governing the Building of Agricultural Houses on Agricultural Land (農業用地興建農舍辦法) that stipulates that only farmers are entitled to construct farmhouses and trade on farmland. The Cabinet also agreed to amend Article 18-1 of the Agricultural Development Act, which allows the purchase of farmhouses by non-farmers via inheritance and foreclosure sales, and the amendment has been sent to the legislature for approval.

Will the amendments work to promote the principle of farmland solely for agricultural use? Or is there still a loophole that would allow non-farmers to skirt the limits on farmhouse ownership?

The answer depends on whether the government will compromise with the vested interests who have benefited from the earlier change, and whether lawmakers can find a sense of responsibility to keep the nation’s farmland for agricultural use for the next generation.

For the public, buying produce from local farmers is one way of supporting the people who work the land. Pressuring politicians to protect farmland could help keep the land for sustainable agriculture and national security.

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