Tue, Jul 15, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Doctor drives village's survival effort

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER IN NANTOU

Similar to numerous people in central Nantou County, which seriously suffered from the devastating 921 earthquake in 1999, Chang Chih-yuan's (張桎源) life was dramatically changed by reconstruction work.

The turning point was in 2000, when Chang became involved in a local anti-relocation campaign in a remote town, Hohsing Village (和興村).

The tremor in 1999 destroyed more than 200 houses in the remote village near Chiufenerh Mountain (九份二山), the ground zero of the massive temblor, leaving only six houses unscathed. After a months-long evaluation, the government planned to relocate about 1,000 villagers.

"The news was heartbreaking. So we battled to preserve the place we grow up in rather than lose it," Chang, secretary of Hohsing Agricultural Cooperatives, told the Taipei Times.

With no governmental financial support, Chang said, residents solicited funds from each other. At the beginning, they only had NT$33,000 to pursue their dream -- turning Hohsing into a sustainable, ecological village.

To fulfill the goal, Chang returned to Hohsing after transferring ownership of a few profitable rehabilitation clinics in western Taiwan.

Residents of the village decided to focus on the promotion of both environmental protection and organic agriculture.

For Chang, a rehabilitation physician in his early 40s, restoring his declining village is much more challenging than treating any patient at clinics.

"In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, we were forced to review long-term land exploitation we used to practise inadvertently," Chang said.

The environment around the 1,445-hectare mountainous village had been abused for decades. When Taiwan was colonized by Japan in 1895, Hohsing was one of the villages developed because of logging needs.

After Japanese rule, as economic values changed, the land around Hohsing was covered with sugarcane, bananas and tangerines.

Three decades ago, betel palm cultivation topped everything else due to its high economic return. In 1999, 1,200 hectares of land was covered by the trees. This was criticized by environmentalists because of the trees' lack of ability to hold water in soil.

In the last three years, Chang said, 300,000 endemic trees were planted in distributed betel-palm fields in a bid to phase out the plant. Villagers were also encouraged to do organic farming.

In addition, utilizing all parts of the betel palm to make food, produce reusable tableware and building shelters, introduced a new niche for the development of ecological tourism.

Residents' drive to preserve their village eventually caught the government's attention, which offered further financial aid to Hohsing. Nowadays, the village every month greets more than 3,000 tourists, who can enjoy special meals of organic food in a park specially designed for promoting environmental protection and preservation.

The park was built on a former private betel-palm field.

In a river running through the park, fish ladders were built to ensure the survival of fish species. To remind tourists to respect nature, there are no trash cans available.

The Hohsing residents' efforts were recognized by the international community in 2001, when the Japan-based Mokichi Okada Association (MOA) listed Hohsing as the 9th Earth Ecological Village in the world and initiated a 10-year collaborative project.

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