Agricultural experts yesterday called for more governmental engagement in revitalization of the family farming model to save the nation’s agricultural sector from the threat of the free-trade system and the failure of past policies.
With the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) designating this year the International Year of Family Farming, experts told a forum organized by the New Century Foundation that although Taiwan is not a UN member, it should take note of the organization’s ideas and make changes.
“Contrary to what many believe, family farming — rather than US-style large-scale farming — is more suitable for Taiwan for many reasons, including food security and public values, not only because it is our traditional model. Most importantly, it could re-establish the agricultural sector as the nation’s foundation,” said Warren Kuo (郭華仁), a professor at National Taiwan University’s Department of Agronomy.
According to the organization, family farming “preserves traditional food products, while contributing to a balanced diet and safeguarding the world’s agro-biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources” and it is able to boost local economies and the well-being of communities.
The organization said it is trying to reposition family farming at the center of agricultural, environmental and social policies in national agendas by identifying gaps and opportunities this year.
Family farming in Taiwan has been in a downward spiral after land reforms in 1953 as farmers went through a series of challenges, such as the impact of US aid, which included agricultural products, a decrease in the number of farmers due to urbanization and industrialization, fallow-land rules and, more recently, property developers and local governments converting farmland for other uses, Taiwan Rural Front secretary-general Frida Tsai (蔡培慧) said.
Between 15 and 18 percent of farming households in Taiwan — which once boasted strong agricultural product diversity, technology and production — are able to sustain their livelihood solely by income generated from agricultural activities, Tsai said, adding that farmland is decreasing by 4,000 hectares annually because of fallow-land rules and land-use conversion.
Products such as wheat, corn and soybean are almost no longer grown due to heavy dependence on imports, and the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate is a dismal 30 percent, one of the lowest among developed countries, she added.
As alarming as the situation is, the future appears to be more challenging as the nation pursues accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has liberalized several agricultural sub-sectors in free economic pilot zones around the nation, which has mainly opened the market up to Chinese agricultural investors and services, experts said.
Jung Yi-ting (鍾怡婷), a professor at National Cheng Kung University, said it is time for Taiwan to promote the concept of food sovereignty, which is that people have the right to democratically determine how their own food and agricultural system works.
The German state of Bavaria could be a good example for Taiwan to follow, said Wu Chin-yi (吳勁毅), a National Dong Hwa University professor who studied in Germany for seven years.
The Bavarian government was determined as early as in the late 1970s that the state would thrive on its own family farming system instead of large-scale farming and it invested in infrastructure, training, supply and demand systems and data-mining and analysis, Wu said.
While the number of farmers in the state has dropped, following the global trend, farmland still accounts for 49 percent of Bavarian territory and its agricultural production remains strong, Wu said.
“Meanwhile, the state was also able to maintain its beautiful ‘family farming landscape,’ which has been Bavaria’s pride and what has brought millions of tourists to the state every year — another plus,” Wu said.
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