Wed, Oct 31, 2012 - Page 3 News List

Council of Agriculture to revisit subsidies program

Staff writer, with CNA

Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) earlier this week reaffirmed that a fallow farmland revitalization program will start next year as part of a major step toward agricultural reform.

Chen said the total area of rice paddies has decreased from about 600,000 hectares 30 years ago to about 250,000 hectares at present. In contrast, the acreage of fallow farmland has increased steadily since Taiwan’s accession to the WTO in 2002 and has now exceeded 200,000 hectares. In such instances, even when large plots of farmland are left idle, owners can still receive subsidies.

“The phenomenon violates the principle of fairness and justice,” Chen said, adding that the Council of Agriculture (COA) needs to take action to improve the situation.

However, a few farmers have voiced strong opposition to the COA-initiated fallow farmland revitalization plan, saying it marks a reversal in the government’s previous “small landlords, big tenants” project.

At present, farmland owners are entitled to receive NT$90,000 (US$3,070) per hectare in two installments annually if their farmland is kept fallow. Under the COA’s new fallow farmland revitalization project, land owners would only receive NT$45,000 in subsidies annually for fallow farmland.

The restriction is aimed at encouraging landlords to plant crops for at least a few months instead of leaving their land fallow for the whole year.

If landlords are unable to plow their farmland, the COA-backed farmland bank will help mediate leasing deals for them during a grace period from next year to 2014. During this period, landlords will be given an additional NT$20,000 in farmland maintenance subsidies. Owners of land plots that are unsuitable for farm produce plantation or are reserved for ecological conservation will be offered NT$68,000 in subsidies in two installments annually.

The COA will also help landlords to transform their land for other usage. Chen said the new project will need an annual budget of NT$11 billion, the same amount needed for the current project.

“The difference lies in that the new project will encourage increased production, while the present one only subsidizes owners of fallow land lots,” he said.

The project will be put up for discussion at an inter-ministerial meeting and will then be sent to Premier Sean Chen for final approval. COA officials said that once the Cabinet endorses the project, the COA will sponsor at least 100 community outreach meetings around the country to brief people on the main features of the project.

The COA estimated the project will be able to help revitalize 45,000 hectares of farmland currently left fallow.

While many young farmers support the new project, a few older farmers criticize the plan as a policy about-face. Hsieh Wen-wu, a farmer in Houlung Township (後龍) in Miaoli County, said he increased his farmland acreage from 2 to 6 hectares two years ago in support of the COA’s “small landlords, big tenants” project by leasing 4 hectares of farmland.

“I also borrowed NT$7 million to purchase farming equipment, but now the government changes its policy by cutting subsidies. As farmland I leased can only {to be used to] plant rice, I don’t know how to survive under the COA’s new policy,” Hsieh said.

Under the new project, farmers are encouraged to plant corn, wheat and other crops of higher market value. However, many farmers in northern Taiwan said the weather and soil in many parts of the north are not favorable for corn and wheat plantation.

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