Government should help local fruit to stand out

By Chen Chien-hsien 陳劍賢  / 

Sun, Mar 24, 2019 - Page 6

Having frequent exchanges of ideas with many young atemoya growers in Taitung County, I have summarized their opinions into a few suggestions concerning the nation’s agricultural exports for the Council of Agriculture’s reference.

First, agricultural exports require teamwork. In the mid-1970s, Taiwan was praised as a “banana kingdom.” At the time, agricultural production and marketing were unified, and bananas were mainly sold to Japan through the Taiwan Province Fruit Marketing Cooperative, making up more than 90 percent of Japanese banana imports.

However, after the government in 2005 deregulated the export of bananas to Japan, the number of traders increased to more than 20 and there was vicious competition among them. The trade order was thrown into disarray and exports shrank as Taiwanese bananas were replaced by bananas from the Philippines.

The atemoya — known in Taiwan as pineapple sugar apples — grown in Taitung County faced a similar predicament in the past few years.

The fruit’s export to China relies on a dozen traders. Most of them are wholesalers for whom the fruit’s export is only a part-time job. They are opportunistic tricksters who compete behind the scenes. By Lunar New Year this year, the price for big fruit fell to NT$45 per jin (600g) — much lower than past prices of NT$85 per jin.

As export prices are controlled by middlemen, growers have nowhere to vent their frustration. Agricultural exports therefore need integrated sales and distribution channels.

Second, the authorities should help set up cold-storage networks and instruct growers on proper post-harvest processes. Planting and farming contribute 60 to 70 percent of the success of agricultural exports, but 30 to 40 percent relies on coordinating harvesting processes and transportation.

Thanks to Taiwan’s agricultural technologies, growers easily win the contest for the best freshly harvested products. However, it is a completely different matter after the products have made their way to consumers, as uneven quality affects competitiveness in international markets.

The atemoya distribution centers in Taitung County, for instance, are dispersed, so checking fruit and determining their quality is done manually.

Furthermore, local distribution centers often do not have sufficient cold-storage facilities and traders have to drive across the county to collect enough atemoyas to fill a 6.1m-long container. The fruit is then transported long distances. Without proper temperature control, freshness is compromised and sometimes the fruit cracks. The government’s most urgent task is to help solve the problem of distribution and build a cold-storage network.

Finally, the government should establish a Taiwanese fruit brand. By imposing strict quality control and management, the brand would symbolize high quality. It should be named “Taiwan” and mention the place of origin when necessary. Having a brand like “Taiwan Sugar Apples (Taitung)” and “Taiwan Bananas (Kaohsiung)” would achieve market segmentation and help distinguish Taiwanese fruit from foreign fruit.

As there is not enough land in Taiwan for large-scale planting, the only way to stand out is to have quality produce. For that, the government needs to work on improving new species, developing technologies, regulating pesticide use and product safety, integrating marketing channels and establishing a national brand to construct a comprehensive industry chain for the sustainable development of Taiwanese fruit.

Chen Chien-hsien is chairman of the Taitung County Sport Development Foundation and former secretary-general of the Taitung County Council.

Translated by Ho-ming Chang