More than 300 elderly farmers from Chiayi County held a protest in front of the Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday, urging the council not to reduce the annual subsidies for fallow farmland, amid a government farmland revitalization project that will see the subsidies cut in half starting next year.
With council statistics showing that the total area of rice paddies has steadily decreased in the past 30 years and the total area of fallow farmland has increased to about 200,000 hectares in recent years, COA Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) unveiled agricultural reform policies earlier this year, including a fallow farmland revitalization program and subsidies to encourage young people to go into agriculture.
The council’s survey also discovered that of the 200,000 hectares of fallow farmland, about 50,000 hectares (160,000 farmers) had been left idle for more than two seasons.
At present, the government gives farmers NT$90,000 in two installments each year for each hectare of fallow farmland, but under the council’s revitalization program, only one installment of NT$45,000 at most would be given to land owners each year.
Accompanied by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Wong Chung-chun (翁重鈞), hundreds of farmers went first to the Legislative Yuan and the Executive Yuan to submit a petition, stressing that they are not against the fallow farmland revitalization program, but that subsidies should not be drastically cut.
“We have always been obedient, conforming to the government’s policies. We also kept fallow farmlands, made adjustments to growing crops based on the [government’s] policies,” said Weng Wen-hsueh (翁文學), a farmer in his 70s and a two-time recipient of the Taiwan Top 10 Premium Rice award.
“But now that we are getting old and unable to grow crops, the government tells us that the subsidy will be reduced next year,” he said, calling on the administration to ensure that the owners of small plots of farmlands would be taken cared of.
Lee Chao-tsung (李朝宗), former chairman of the farmers’ association in Chiayi County, said many of the farmers are not against the new policy, but the government should have supporting measures to help elderly farmers whose subsidies would be cut.
He also urged the government to nurture an atmosphere that would encourage farmers that they would profit more from growing crops rather than leaving their land fallow.
In response, COA Deputy Minister Chen Wen-te (陳文德) said the new policy means that farmland can only be left fallow for one planting season per year and the farmers can still receive subsidies in the following season, in which they are encouraged to grow import substitution crops, such as corn, soybeans or wheat.
He said that with a subsidy of NT$45,000 for fallow farmland, another subsidy for growing crops and profit from the crops, the farmers could earn more than the NT$90,000 they receive now from idle land.
He added that in the initial stage, the new revitalization program would only apply to the 50,000 hectares of farmland designated as being inappropriately left fallow, and that the policy would be reviewed every year.