Sat, Sep 26, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Jacana numbers grow to record high

CONSERVATION PUSH:The Forestry Bureau said that eco-friendly farming techniques have helped to bolster the numbers of the “valuable” pheasant-tailed jacana

By Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter

Pheasant-tailed jacanas search for food in an undated photograph.

Photo: CNA

Forestry Bureau officials yesterday said that strong conservation efforts have helped increase the number of rare pheasant-tailed jacanas to a record 570 this year from less than 100 in 1998, with farmers in Tainan’s Guantian District (官田) adopting eco-friendly farming techniques and developing organic products to preserve the bird’s major habitats.

Belonging to the waders group, pheasant-tailed jacanas are identified by their huge feet and claws, which allow them to walk on floating vegetation.

In the past, they were commonly seen in shallow waters in southern Taiwan. However, due to disappearing habitats, the bird has been classified as a “rare and valuable species” in the nation’s three-category wildlife protection list, the bureau said, adding that at one stage there were as few as 31 jacana nests and 40 chicks in Tainan.

Guantian is home to the bird’s largest habitat in Taiwan, as local fields are flooded all year round to grow rice and water chestnuts, bureau officials said.

The bird’s population had grown over the past few years due to conservation efforts, but 85 pheasant-tailed jacanas died eating produce sprayed with pesticide in 2010, prompting the bureau and the Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation to establish a “green conservation label” in 2011 and encourage pesticide-free contract farming in Guantian, officials said.

Such contract farming provides financial incentives to farmers, as rice grown by contracted farmers is sold at NT$13 per jin (600g), which is higher than the average wholesale price of NT$9 per jin and is equivalent to the price of organic rice, while local water chestnut can be sold at NT$55 per jin, much higher than the average price of NT$30 per jin, the bureau said.

Farmland included in the green conservation label project has increased from three to 22 hectares, resulting in the bird’s rising population, with 1,378 chicks hatched last year and 570 adult birds seen this year, the bureau said.

Bureau officials said it has developed a water chestnut jelly to create value for local producers and encourage eco-friendly farming, while 10 percent of the product’s revenue is used to conserve the jacana and the environment.

The jelly is made with chestnut soup and is free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, the officials said, adding that the jelly is rich in polyphenol, an antioxidant.

To encourage eco-farming, the bureau said that it established a green conservation fund in June by diverting 15 percent of the revenue of the products tagged with the green conservation label to developing agriculture, recruiting young farmers and for emergency relief.

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