Newsmakers: Agriculture bureaucrat Lee Chin-lung to make use of connections to farmers

SMOOTH OPERATOR:The incoming chairman of the Council of Agriculture is known for his ability to head off disaster and he hopes to communicate with farmers and fishermen

By Tsai Ting-I  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Dec 01, 2002 - Page 3

While many had no doubt come to think of the post of chairman of the Council of Agriculture (COA) as the Cabinet's poisoned chalice followingf the fiasco over reform of farmers' and fishermen's associations, Lee Chin-lung (李金龍) took a mere 30 minutes to accept the job.

Lee, 55, director of the COA's Animal and Plant Quarantine Bureau since 1998, has agreed to succeed Fan Chen-tsung (范振宗), who stepped down over the mass protest against financial reform which some analysts say resulted from miscommunication between the government and farmers.

Lee has impressed many of his colleagues and friends with good communication skills, academic achievement and agricultural professionals have generally agreed that Lee's appointment is appropriate.

"I think he would fit the position very well, especially given that he has been well-connected to farmers' associations from his former positions," Yan Jian-sian (顏建賢), secretary-general of Taiwan Agro-Fighters United, said. Yan's organization is an umbrella organization composed of farmers' and fishermen's associations and Yan once worked with Lee when he was the director of the COA's Farmers Service Department in late 1980s.

Premier Yu Shyi-kun described Lee as having "complete and extensive experience in the civil service since he joined the Council of Agriculture 23 years ago."

He was praised for his prompt ban on the importation of US apples after some were found to be infected with coddling moth larvae early this month and he has been credited with restraining the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease in 1998.

Lee's department ordered a ban on US apple imports on Nov. 5, soon after tests confirmed the larvae in the US apples were that of the coddling moth , successfully avoiding a possible disaster to local fruits.

Back in 1997, thousands of hogs were slaughtered in the wake of a large outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, dealing a serious blow to pork exports and virtually crippling the local hog industry. Following the outbreak, the COA founded the Animal and Plant Quarantine Bureau and Lee was appointed as its first director. Under Lee, the department has rigorously enforced its vaccination requirements for hogs since 1998, a policy that has allowed local pork to make a speedy comeback.

Aside from these two successes, Lee has also won fame for his so-called "Revolution of Taiwan's fruits" in the 1980s when he served as director of the COA's farmers' service department. At the time, Lee advised fruit farmers to spread harvest over time. This move helped stabilize fruit prices. He didn't stop there, though. Since then, Lee and academics have devoted resources to research in the relationship between fruit-growth and seasons.

At that time, Lee also introduced "agricultural tourism" to Taiwan, a scheme in which farmers can improve their bottom lines by inviting tourists to cultivate and harvest fruits and vegetables.

Lee, a native of Yu's hometown of Ilan County and also one of Yu's junior high-school classmates, joined the Council of Agriculture in 1979 as a technician. He was promoted to the secretary generalship in 1992 and later appointed as the first director of the Animal and Plant Quarantine Bureau in 1998.

Lee holds a doctorate in horticulture from Hannover University in Germany. He has also been teaching horticulture at National Chungshing University since 1980 and at National Taiwan University since 1985.

His high regard for the time he spent in Germany can be gleaned from his choice to include "Hannover" as part of his e-mail address.

"My six years in Germany were very significant for me. Picking `Hannover' as my part of my e-mail address keeps those days close to mind," Lee said.

"I have learned how to work effectively, to be critical of myself, qualities that have helped me reach my goals in Germany," he added.

Some of what he learned in Germany has also rubbed off on the people around him.

"He even taught us how to shine shoes and iron shirts," said Ge Chao-jia (葛兆佳), a COA official, who was a staff at the Farmers Service Department about 10 years ago, when Lee was the director of the department.

As Lee will officially step into the position Monday, he, however, refused to talk about his vision for the future of agriculture, insisting the ideas could only be shared after tomorrow.

Lee said that the first thing on his agenda is to listen to the voices of farmers and fishermen with an open mind, thereby closing the communication gap that some say has opened up between them and the government.