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Stars of the Agricultural Industry
The Council of Agriculture has selected the top 100 agri-products! The category winning the most favor is rice, followed by tea, both of which play a crucial role in the daily diet of people of Taiwan. They have recently become paradigms of quality agriculture and of striving to lessen the impact of low-priced imports.
Have you found it a difficult task to select which bag of rice to take off the supermarket shelf recently? There are various bags of rice coming in different brands, varieties, from different areas, cultivated using methods, and packaged differently. They are so myriad that it is time-consuming to choose among them. This massive variety exemplifies the success of the CAS High Quality Rice Certification implemented by agricultural agencies all these years.
According to the statistics released by the Agriculture and Food Agency (AFA), in 2005, the per capita consumption of rice in Taiwan averaged 48.6 kilograms, 23% down from 59.84 kilograms in 1995.
With the gradual decrease in consumption of rice, as well as massive imports of low-priced rice, farmers are struggling for their livelihood. With that in mind, authorities concerned are trying to overcome hurdles by enhancing the quality of local rice and promoting its freshness and reliability.
Wang Jhang-Ying, head of Food Industry Division of AFA, indicated that rising living standards has enabled people of Taiwan to lay more emphasis on quality, rather than quantity in their diet. Therefore, agricultural agencies had shifted their focus on growing rice from massive production in early years to high quality now, from which the idea of CAS quality rice was formed.
According to Wang, 13 rice varieties are currently listed as quality rice. The ones familiar to the public include Tai-keng No.8, Tai-king No.9, Tai-keng No.14, Taichung-sen No. 10, and Yi-chuan Rice. Major production Tai-keng No.8 accounts for 17% of all rice producing areas, followed by Tai-keng No.14, which takes up 10%. In addition, the annual production of domestic rice amounts to 250 thousand tons. 67% of producing areas were varieties of quality rice last year, while this year has seen 70% annual growth is seen every year.
Quality of rice reflects its tag price. Wang pointed out that ordinary rice on the market averaged NTD 33 per kilo, while CAS quality rice averaged NTD 70, more than double. As for top-notch quality rice, tag price could hike to over NTD 100.
Kuanshuan Rice in Taitung tops the list of top 100 agricultural products. Chiu-ying Chen, director of the Farmer’s Association of Kuanshuan Township, also said that for the 1st season this year, purchasing price in western Taiwan was NTD 900 to 950 per 60 kilos, but the agreeable natural environment in Taitung drove the price for Kuanshan Rice to NTD 1400 per 60 kilos. But with its popularity, supply fell short of demand.
On the other hand, exports of domestic rice have also been a success. Making a comeback to the market in Japan two years ago, rice exports totaled 300 kilos last year, and similar amount is expected this year. Meanwhile, starting from this year, a small amount of rice will make it on Hong Kong shelves, also with quality rice as the appeal.
Quality rice has been promising, but what about the tea of Taiwan?
Based upon the statistics of agricultural agencies, the annual production of local tea nears 20 thousand tons; the amount of tea imports is about the same. Competition is therefore heavy. Exports of Taiwan tea enjoyed its heyday in the 70s, with annual exports reaching 12 thousand tons, but the number has shrunk to 2 thousand kilos, reflecting the fact that 90% of Taiwan tea relies on domestic sales. Moreover, the annual per capita consumption of tea in Taiwan increased from 0.27 kilos in 1971 to 1.46 kilos in 2001.
With sales switching to domestic market in the past few years, AFA has put forth the Cooperation System between Tea Factories and Farmers, certification of producing areas, and production history, all of which serve as strategies to secure the advantage of Taiwan tea in the face of cutthroat price competition from tea imports.
Inspection Officer Wu Kuo-yi indicated that the Cooperation System between Tea Factories and Farmers was factory-oriented, combined with the help of tea farmers, to carry out inspection on pesticide residues to maintain quality control in the process of production, as well as to build up quality-assured tea supply chain; only when this goal was achieved could high-quality, safe Taiwan tea be produced. This project started in 2004, and this year 141 tea manufacturing factories took part; as a result, tea plantation has expanded to 1838 hectares, accounting for 10% of entire domestic plantation area, and is expected to keep expanding in the near future.
Now that the Cooperation System guarantees the profit, tea-manufacturing factories are now willing to purchase fresh tea leaves at a price higher than that on the market. Officer Wu said that some tea factories in Min-chien Township, where tea leaves were picked by machines, purchased fresh leaves from tea farmers at a price 3.33 dollars higher than the market price. Since every hectare could produce 3900-kilo machine-picked fresh tea leaves, the proceeds per hectare are expected to increase 12,800 dollars.
Apart from the Cooperation System, AFA has been providing guidance to tea farmers on how to keep production records in accordance with TGAP, combined in force with a traceability system as well as the certification & marking system implemented this year, in order to consolidate the competitiveness of Taiwan tea. Wu also mentioned that the certification marks expected to come out recently were Tung Ding Oolong Tea from Lugu Township and A-Li Mountain Tea from Chiayi County.
The natural environment in Taiwan has cultivated plenty of quality produce. Taiwan rice and tea, like two jewels embedded on a crown, will be paving a promising path for Taiwan's agriculture.