Activists painted a gloomy picture of the future of the country’s agricultural sector and urged government officials and lawmakers to reconsider a bill that would lead to conversion of large portions of farmland to other purposes under the pretense of “rural renewal.”
The government’s plan to revitalize farming villages nationwide was one of the “i-Taiwan 12 projects” in President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) election platform. Approved by the Cabinet in October, the bill zipped through the legislature’s Economics Committee in December after only three sessions, with lawmakers brooking no delay to increase the proposed budget of NT$150 billion (US$4.44 billion) to NT$200 billion over a period of 10 years.
Growing opposition to the bill and warnings of the dangers that it represents have kept the bill in the legislature, which would otherwise have been enacted earlier this year.
Opposition has been driven by the reality that people do not want to say goodbye to farms.
Architect Sun Te-hung (孫德鴻), designer of the Shihsanhang Museum of Archeology — which won the coveted Eastern Architectural Design Award in 2003 — said the bill reflected a longstanding view within government that agriculture is “of no value.”
“Look at the laws and regulations regarding rural villages enacted in recent years. Next to none were about farm estate development … which resulted in great amounts of land suited for agriculture being converted into building zones,” Sun said. “If the bill is passed, farmland is set to shrink further.”
The Food and Fertilizer Technology Center for the Asian and Pacific Region said Taiwan’s self-sufficiency rate of major grain products was 23 percent in 2005, lower than the 28 percent seen in Japan and 29.4 percent in South Korea and far below the 95 percent in China and 128 percent seen in the US and many European countries.
Between 1997 and 2007, Taiwan saw a dramatic loss of arable land — about 32,000 hectares — accounting for nearly 4 percent of the country’s cultivated land.
Sun called on the government to set a lower limit for self-sufficient food production and loosen restrictions on cropland in the face of looming global food shortages.
The World Bank recently said that global demand for food would double by 2030.
“If the process [of transforming agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes] continues apace, the consequence would be too awful to imagine when the global food crisis strikes by 2030,” Sun said.
Liao Pen-chuan (廖本全), associate professor of Department of Real Estate and Building Environment at National Taipei University, said the bill, which included 42 articles, could be summarized with two points: An amount of “money” totaling NT$200 billion is to be spent in faming villages. All of it is for construction projects.
“Thinking only about ‘money’ and ‘construction’ is a typical mindset of governments in developing countries facing agricultural problems,” he said. “Simply put, the government is neglecting villages in rural areas and the problems they’re facing. It mistakenly thinks ‘money’ and ‘construction’ will resolve all the problems.”
An amendment to the Agriculture Development Act (農業發展條例) in 2000, which allowed non-farmers to purchase and possess agriculture land and lifted restrictions on land use, only marked the onset of the increasing uses to which the country’s farmland is put.