Because the latest figures from the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) show farmers are making little money, while the farming population is ageing, academics say that agriculture can become sustainable only when farmers could earn a reasonable income.
DGBAS figures from 2009 — the statistics for last year are not ready yet — show the average annual income for a farming household dropped to the second-lowest level in 14 years and was only a little higher than in 2002, when Taiwan entered the WTO. In addition, DGBAS figures also show that, in 20 years, the number of farmers above the age of 65 has doubled.
In 2009, the average annual farming household income was NT$872,000 (US$30,000), but only less than NT$220,000 — or 22 percent — of that income came from farming, while non-farming income accounted for about 78 percent — approximately NT$676,000 — of the total annual average income for farming families.
Compared with the average farming household income in 2006, which was about NT$941,000, farming households have suffered a 10 percent drop in income.
Farming families in 2006 earned about 76 percent of the average annual income earned by non--farming families, which was 5 percent more than in 2009. Along with the drop in income, there was also a significant decline in the farming population — by as much as about 50 percent — in the past 20 years.
In 1999, there were 776,000 farmers in Taiwan, but the number dropped by 30 percent to 543,000 in 2009. In 1990, about 4.9 percent of farmers were above 65 years of age, but the number grew to 17 percent in 2009, while the percentage of farmers under the age of 35 dropped from 22.5 percent to 10.4 percent.
Taiwan Rural Front spokeswoman Tsai Pei-hui (蔡培慧), who is an associate professor at Shih Hsin University’s Graduate Institute for Social Transformation Studies, said that not being able to make a reasonable income is the main cause behind the decline in the population of young farmers.
“I can’t even remember how many times the price for a noodle soup has gone up, but the price of scallion has remained the same for a long time,” Tsai said.
She suggested that, if the government could take NT$50 billon out of the Farming Village Renewal Fund — which is about a quarter of the fund — to pay an NT$20,000 monthly stipend for two years for young people to learn -farming skills, there could be at least 20,000 new farmers.
“In Europe and in Japan, governments are making a lot of effort to save agriculture,” National Taiwan University agricultural economics professor Woo Rhung-jieh (吳榮杰) said. “In Japan, farming families even make more money than the average non-farming families.”
He said after becoming WTO members, many countries support their agricultural sectors with “transfer payments,” such as the “environmental subsidy” in Germany, since the market mechanism may not reflect the true value of the agricultural sector.
Agricultural development researcher Tu Yu (杜宇) said: “The government should make raising farmers’ income from farming a policy objective, so that farmers don’t have to do other jobs to sustain themselves.”
He went on to say that there should be some visionary policies for farmers, not only compensation.
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