More than 120 farmers in Erchongpu and Sanchongpu quickly joined hands to question the legitimacy of the plan and vowed to stop it from being carried out.
Lu Cheng-sheng (呂正盛), a farmer from Sanchongpu, said only big corporations and corrupt politicians benefit from the deal.
“They are not even planning to build a science park. They want apartments built by big businesses. Taiwan has a very low food self-sufficiency rate. Why trade such good farmland for more buildings?” he added.
Blessed with natural springs used to irrigate crops all year around, Erchongpu is known for producing prime-quality rice. The famous Jhudong irrigation canals also started from here when, in 1926, local landlord Lin Chun-hsiu (林春秀) initiated the construction project that, once completed two years later, saw 21km of canals irrigating over 500 hectares of farmland.
“The Lin family was the biggest landlord back then, owning over 900 hectares of land. They sold some 400 hectares to fund the construction,” Lu Yuan-kuei said.
Nearly 90 years later, the canals continue to supply water to farmers in neighboring areas.
Chang Te-tsai (張德財), a 76-year-old farmer from neighboring Puyu, a farming village embroiled in a decade-long struggle against land grabbing by the government to build a high-tech industrial park, said people who don’t farm cannot understand the relationship between farmers and the land.
“Three generations of our family have lived here. We have built our family house three times, first with mud and dirt, then with concrete and brick,” Chang said. “When I started working in the paddy fields, I was too young to even lift a hoe … Our land is our life.”
While facing expropriations, the farming villages also have to confront the threat from real estate speculators and land investors. Thirty years after Erchongpu was included in the expropriation project, much of its land has fallen into the hands of outsiders hoping to make profits out of expropriations.
“Most old farmers don’t want to have their land taken over, but new landowners all want to sell their properties,” Lu Cheng-sheng said.
“You see those fallow fields where only vegetables or grass grow. They were bought by land sharks. Only those where you see rice growing belong to real farmers,” Liu Ching-chang explained.
To Liu Feng-ying (劉鳳英) from Sanchongpu, life over the past few years has been “painful.”
“Every morning I wake up, I worry what will become of us and where our three-generation family can go if the government tears down our house. My husband and I worked very hard to save money and build this house. You see what happened in Dapu. It can happen to us too,” she said, breaking into tears while recalling the incident in which the Miaoli County Government sent in excavators escorted by police to dig up rice paddies in Dapu in 2010.
The controversial development plan is currently under review by the Ministry of Interior’s Construction and Planning Agency. Once it is approved, the expropriation will begin.
The self-help organization said they will bring the case to the supreme administrative court if the plan is passed.