Though the irrigated terracing that sprawls over the hills of Sanjhih District (三芝) in New Taipei City have been slowly disappearing, efforts by the Department of Agriculture to restore wetlands and sources of natural irrigation have seen some success in helping breed the nation’s native creatures, conserving the ecology as well as bringing people into closer harmony with the land.
At its peak, Sanjhih District had more than 1,500 hectares of terraced fields, the department’s Forestry Division director Huang Chia-wen (黃嘉文) said.
However, due to a policy of encouraging farmers to let their fields lie fallow there has been a massive exodus of young people into the cities and only 200 hectares are still used to grow crops.
The department has begun helping farmers in the Sanjhih and Dakeng (大坑) districts as a trial area, and has plans to extend its efforts to Shihmen (石門) and Jinshan (金山) districts due to the success in Sanjhih and Dakeng.
Chien Chin-chin (簡金進), who owns a terraced field in Dakeng, said farmers do not favor terraced fields due to their small yield — related to the small surface area and lack of sunlight — and the cost of repairing the fields.
However, Chien added that after observing that frogs had no place to live due to the destruction of irrigation canals — and a wide area of terraced fields that was destroyed — due to the impact of Typhoon Xangsane in 2000, he decided to involve himself in the restoration of the fields.
As well as the government’s efforts, non-governmental organization Taiwan Ecological Engineering Development Foundation (EEF) also successfully revitalized terraced fields in Bayen Village (八煙), Jinshan District, after the fields had been left fallow for nearly two decades.
The village had a viable irrigation system that encouraged the growth of wildlife such as frogs, dragonflies and snakes, foundation director-general Liao Jen-hui (廖仁慧) said, adding that since the halt of agricultural activity in 1986 the irrigation channels have fallen into disrepair, which discouraged wildlife from staying in the area.
“If you have water, life will return,” foundation president Hochen Tan (賀陳旦) said, adding that since the reintroduction of water to the repaired irrigation channels from a nearby river, tadpoles and fish could once again be seen in Bayen.
The walls of the irrigation system also support native flora, including Lilium formosanum, Rhododendron oldhamii maxim and buri palms, and is also home to the Taipei tree frog, the Swinhoe’s frog and the oriental scarlet dragonfly.
Farmers who have been working in irrigated fields for half their lives feel bad seeing the dried mud of fields exposed to the sun, Hochen said, adding that the foundation conducted a year’s worth of in-depth investigation and tried to map out the waterways from stories told by older farmers still in the village.
“We rented a piece of land to experiment while searching for more funding, and the results of reintroducing water exceeded even our wildest expectations,” Hochen said.
Following an agreement with the Forestry Bureau to fund the project in 2009, the foundation has continued its efforts to revitalize the fields, Hochen said, adding that not only has the ecology been revitalized, some young people who had moved to the cities also returned.
One came back to conduct tourism and related affairs for the village, which encouraged other young men to return more frequently, he said.