Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Council of Agriculture to involve public to halt illegal farm activities

PUBLIC PRESSURE:The council has made the mapping and tracking of illegal facilities available to the public online to put pressure on local officials to close them

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

The Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday announced the creation of an online mapping and inventory system to collect satellite images and track registration codes and polluted areas associated with farmland across the nation. Accessible to the public, the system is aimed at harnessing public opinion to prompt local governments to demolish illegal facilities on farms.

At a meeting in Taipei yesterday, COA Deputy Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) unveiled the mapping system and an updated inventory of agricultural lands to non-governmental agencies, as part of preparations for the Ministry of the Interior’s plan to recategorize land in Taiwan in line with the National Spatial Planning Act (國土計畫法).

“If local governments do not deal with illegal facilities, we can prompt them to act through public opinion,” Chen said. “The central and local governments should share the responsibility, instead of passing the buck back and forth.”

The council in July revealed its plan to remove illegal farmland structures, with 286 suspicious facilities built after May 20 last year as its first targets.

However, the Changhua County Government on Sept. 18 declared its intention to help local businesses legalize their facilities, on the conditions that they were not built after Sept. 12; that they did not pollute farmland, river water or air, or affect public security; and that the owners did not evade paying their taxes.

“No one wants to prevent Changhua from industrial development — but does the county government even care about agriculture and spatial planning?” Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan researcher Wu Chi-jung (吳其融) wrote in an op-ed on the Chinese-language News & Market online platform (上下游新聞市集) on Tuesday.

Local governments are reluctant to remove facilities because they need the tax revenue from those businesses, especially in poorer regions like Changhua’s Dacheng Township (大城), Changhua County Environmental Protection Union president Shih Yueh-ying (施月英) said yesterday.

The council on Sept. 18 announced a list of 17 illegal facilities to be demolished first, including eight in Changhua, five in Kaohsiung, two in Chiayi County, one in New Taipei City and one in Tainan.

The list is reduced from 286 to 17 facilities because certain unusual structures on satellite images were later confirmed to be legitimate, Chen said yesterday.

“The council plans to update the list regularly, and the public can examine the outcome at the end of this year,” Chen added.

Taiwan Water Resources Protection Union director Jennifer Nien (粘麗玉) said the council should also stop Taiwan Sugar Corp (Taisugar), a state-run enterprise that possesses most of the quality farmland, from unduly leasing lands out.

Nien talked about a Buddhist group, Bliss and Wisdom (福智), that plans to construct a school on a plot of land that it rented from Taisugar.

Taisugar’s farmland use could be improved, Chen said, adding that the council plans to retain its quality lands for organic farming.

The council’s mapping system can be found at map.coa.gov.tw/farmland/survey.html.

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