Sat, Nov 01, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Farmers protest low rice price

HEATED EXCHANGERepresentatives appealed to the government to purchase crops at a price proportional to the growing cost, as they stand to lose more than NT$26,000 per acre based on the current subsidies

BY DEBBY WU  /  STAFF REPORTER

Farmers gather in front of the legislature yesterday, demanding the government purchase their rice at a higher price to protect their livelihoods.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

A group of farmers protested the government's low purchase price for rice crops at the Legislative Yuan and the Council of Agriculture yesterday.

About 150 farmers, most of them older than 50, gathered in front of the Legislative Yuan in the morning while the legislature was holding a public hearing on the price of the crops.

"Two kilos of rice is selling for less than a packet of cigarettes. Half a kilo is not worth a marinated egg," the farmers shouted outside the Legislative Yuan.

The protest was organized by the Chaiyi Farmers Fighting For Existence Self-help Association. Situated on the fertile Chianan Plain, or "Taiwan's rice barn." Chaiyi County is a major agricultural region.

The government has been purchasing the crops and encouraging the farmers to stop cultivating rice at the same time.

They have asked farmers to grow something else, or switch to other jobs.

The farmers, however, do not appreciate the government's policy of terminating cultivation and insisted that the government should subsidize them with more money.

The farmers yesterday appealed to the government to purchase their rice crops at a price related to the growing cost, which they said amounted to NT$23 a kilogram. The government is paying them NT$16.6 per kilogram.

"With the current subsidies farmers would lose more than NT$26,000 per acre, instead of earning any money from their work," said Chan Chao-li (詹朝立), the organizer of a planned march for farmers and fishermen scheduled for Nov. 23.

"The current policy to encourage farmers to stop cultivation would just lead to a dead end. We are only asking the government to purchase the crops at the growing cost to allow the farmers to survive," said Yang Tsung-yao (楊宗耀), chairman of the self-help association.

Meanwhile, the public hearing taking place inside the Legislative Yuan was equally heated.

The farmers' representatives argued with Council of Agriculture officials, shouting and pounding on their desks.

The representatives accused the administration of failing to understand the farmers' difficult situation.

A threat to vote the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) out of power next year earned a round of applause from the farmers' representatives.

Council of Agriculture Vice Chairman Tai Cheng-yao (戴振耀) commented that the low purchase price existed because the council had not taken the cost of the land into consideration. He promised to recalculate the cost, which calmed the representatives to a degree.

The farmers also went to the Council of Agriculture's offices at noon to further voice their appeals.

Later in the afternoon the council issued a statement saying that it would not consider increasing the subsidy, since this would be in violation of WTO regulations, which stipulate that after joining the WTO a country must cut its domestic agricultural support by 20 percent.

The subsidy for all agricultural products also has to be reduced every year.

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