Sat, Dec 17, 2011 - Page 3 News List

2012 ELECTIONS: INTERVIEW: Former COA minister highlights need for better policies

Late last month, the cost of persimmons sparked a war of words between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Former Council of Agriculture (COA) minister Lee Chin-lung told Jennifer Huang, a staff reporter with the ‘Liberty Times’ (the sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’), that better systems need to be put in place in the agricultural sector to help identify problems early so that effective solutions can be found

Liberty Times (LT): The price of persimmons led to a war of words between the two main political parties that seemed to focus on each criticizing the other over pictures and the prices for astringent and non-astringent persimmons. Does this help resolve problems surrounding the production and sales of agricultural products?

Lee Chin-lung (李金龍): The original purpose of the DPP’s flier was to point out the imbalance between the [over-]production of fruit and [low] sales, causing prices to plummet. However, the issue of using the wrong picture sadly led to a blurring of the focus.

Even though the government initiated an emergency policy to buy astringent persimmons that were being sold for very low prices, both the KMT and the DPP have yet to rationally discuss the issue of the imbalance between the sale and production of vegetables and fruits. Neither have they talked about how to raise [the efficiency of the] system.

The production and sales imbalance of agricultural products is a result of government policy and administration problems.

The prices of both astringent and non--astringent persimmons have dropped from last year; that’s a fact. The primary reason [leading to the drop in prices] is because there were no major weather events this year. This led to a good harvest, so the quantity affected the pricing.

Therefore, the most important thing is that the agricultural sector’s administrative organizations are alert to such factors.

Persimmons are harvested once a year, so the government’s agricultural advisers should know the total production area, yield estimates and the competitiveness of persimmons compared with other recently picked fruits so they can initiate regulation mechanisms, if necessary.

Take the German government’s actions on the harvest of apples as an example. The German government begins to survey the production of apples in France, Spain and other countries, as well as plans appropriate distribution methods, long before apples in Germany are ripe and ready to be harvested.

Depending on the situation they face, the government can assist in either distributing the apples locally, exporting them or having the fruit processed.

Take bananas, which also saw their prices plummet recently, as another example. Bananas grown in the south of Taiwan are harvested every 10 months, while bananas grown in central ares are harvested every 14 months. The harvest period is usually in May. The government could start intervening in the production of the fruit as early as February. For example, it can tell farmers to reduce their average production per hectare from 20,000kg to 15,000kg. It could also negotiate with Japan to increase banana exports, or have fruit processing plants place larger orders.

However, in recent years, the agricultural ministry seems to be losing its focus. It holds press conferences to criticize others, but its ability to discover problems early on and then solve them is decreasing.

LT: Farmers have called for the re-introduction of the “95 system” [a mechanism which would see the government buy up major agricultural goods that have experienced drastic price drops at 95 percent of the overhead cost]. The ministry did not order a mass buy-up of persimmons to help farmers until President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said this should be done. Was the timing right?

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