Among Taiwan’s state-run enterprises, Taiwan Sugar Corp (Taisugar) has been more agile in its corporate transformation and has the most diverse business operation.
Apart from pig farming, orchid cultivation and biotech product development, Taisugar also tried running a hypermarket chain — Taisuco, which was closed in June last year — and gas stations. Seen in this light, the company’s decision to enter the green energy market came as no surprise.
An opinion piece published in the Chinese-language Liberty Times (sister newspaper of the Taipei Times) on Feb. 21 indicates that Taisugar is planning to construct solar energy facilities on the company’s reforestation land, which covers hundreds of hectares in Pingtung County, but cutting down trees to install renewable energy is absurd.
In addition to providing sustainable energy, the development of renewable energy serves a more important purpose: reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As thick tree foliage contributes to carbon fixation and helps curb greenhouse gases as well as improve air pollution, turning forest land into a base for solar energy facilities will cost more than it is worth.
Taisugar’s former chairman Charles Huang (黃育徵) played an important role in pushing for the circular economy promoted by President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration. During his chairmanship, Huang pushed for the establishment of circular agricultural economy parks and transformed the company’s Dong Hai Feng Pig Farm in Pingtung County into the nation’s first ecological livestock farm.
The farm incorporates the nation’s first ecological hog farm, which includes biogas power generation, solar-powered pigsties and circular facilities for organic resources and serves as a circular economy model. More importantly, the company owns a large plot of forest land around the farm. Biogas residues and slurry resulting from the anaerobic fermentation of pig manure and urine for biogas production can be turned into organic fertilizers and reused for the land. No other hog farms operate under the same conditions.
Biogas residues and slurry created from anaerobic fermentation contain an abundance of organic matter that is ideal as agricultural fertilizer.
For ordinary farmland, however, there are limits for the total amount of biogas residues and slurry that can be used as fertilizer depending on the kind of crop, not to mention that fertilization does not apply to every season.
This explains the major difficulty encountered by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and the Council of Agriculture in recent years when they have been promoting the reuse of livestock manure wastewater — and biogas residues and slurry — as fertilizer for agricultural land: the difficulty of balancing supply from livestock farms with the demand for biogas residues and slurry for agricultural land.
Taisugar does not have to worry about this problem, because it has both pig farms and forest land.
Pingtung County is a major pig farming county, and pollution caused by wastewater discharged by pig farms constitutes an environmental problem that has been bothering government agencies.
Starting with former Pingtung County commissioner Tsao Chi-hung’s (曹啟鴻) term in office, the county government has been taking proactive measures to deal with the issue, such as guiding pig farmers to generate biogas power.
With regard to forest that can be legally logged, the county government gives subsidies to local Aboriginal communities to reduce logging. About 4,000 hectares of plain land in general agricultural zones previously used for agricultural or grazing purposes have been reforested, and a large proportion of the land reforestation can be attributed to Taisugar’s efforts. The county’s vast reforested land serves as the ideal location for reusing biogas residue as fertilizer.
The EPA is now pushing for a co-digestion project of food waste and pig manure and urine for biogas generation to solve the problem of recycling food waste, which must be processed before being used as hog feed to prevent African swine fever. As biogas residues and slurry are not immediately usable as crop fertilizer, the best way is to use them to irrigate forest land for non-agricultural purposes.
Rather than embarking on solar power generation out of the blue and cutting down trees for that cause, Taisugar would do better to assess its resources and incorporate the company’s various branches, such as livestock farming, forestry, and biotechnology, to work on biogas power generation and develop organic fertilizer, in a bid to return to the basics and make the best use of the company’s advantages.
Chen Wen-ching is president of the Environment and Development Foundation.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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