A deserted pig farm in Yunlin County has been converted into a state-of-the-art cacao farm by a man who returned to Taiwan a few years ago to take care of his ailing father.
Daniel Chen (陳盈豪) was running a precision technology plant in China when he learned that his father had been diagnosed with cancer and dementia. Chen returned to Taiwan in 2016 and began looking for some farmland, as doctors had said that gardening might help slow the progress of his father’s dementia.
Chen, 47, said he was also hoping to create job opportunities for young people in his home county, Yunlin, to prevent them from leaving to seek work in urban areas.
As he had no farming experience, he enrolled in the Farmer Training School in Yunlin, where he began learning about cacao cultivation.
For example, Chen said he learned that cacao fields require one-10th of the water needed to grow rice.
This made cacao an ideal crop for his hometown of Tuku (土庫), where there has been severe land subsidence, a phenomenon that occurs when groundwater leeches from the land.
In July 2017, Chen bought an abandoned pig farm, which had been used as a waste disposal site for a while. He invested NT$300 million (US$10.6 million) in the project.
“It took me a year and a half to complete the soil preparation and land grading for the 1.5 hectare farm in Tuku, before I could even start planting cacao,” he said.
The small cacao farm began to take shape in early 2019, and it caught the attention of the local government and the media when Chen, in collaboration with schools in the area, began offering internships for students interested in pursuing agriculture.
Last year, chocolate expert Lee Chou-hsi (李宙禧) offered to help Chen produce a new type of raw chocolate, which is now being used to make products that bring in a monthly revenue of NT$500,000 to NT$600,000.
However, Chen’s plans for the farm have not stopped there, as he has turned his attention to developing more efficient farming methods, with the aim of building a sustainable business model that could be used for other crops.
On the farm, which employs 22 people, Chen is building a post-harvest processing facility and a greenhouse that would use artificial intelligence to control lighting, temperature and humidity.
When those two structures are completed around October, Chen said he plans to open the farm for public viewing.
Despite his achievements, he said his greatest fulfillment comes from seeing the huge improvements in his father’s health and spirits as he works on the farm.
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