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“Light Up Taiwan’s New Agriculture. Young Farmers are the Winners” Creates Novel Future for Agriculture
According to the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishery and Husbandry Census of the Year 2010, there were 720,000 farm households whose business managers had an average age of 62. 44% of those were over 65 years old and 73% of farm households lack successors to take over the business. Therefore, the Council of Agriculture (COA) has recently shifted its focus to the aging problem and labor shortage in agriculture, and has been actively planning mid and long term strategies for training new generation agricultural workers. It has also integrated inter-ministerial and local government resources to be poured into the counseling of young farmers, aiming to attract young people to work in agriculture, foster diverse and interdisciplinary agricultural talents, invigorate the development of agricultural industry chain, optimize the agricultural demographic structure, and elevate Taiwan's overall agricultural competitiveness.
II. Young farmers counseling measure and implementation
(1) Building benchmark learning model from customized counseling
In response to the commonly encountered problems regarding land, capital and technology when practicing agriculture, young farmers with development potentials have been selected nationwide since 2013, and offered a 2-year individual customized counseling on production technology and business management through the integration of industrial-governmental-academic resources. The package includes agricultural competence training, farmland and capital, facility and equipment subsidy, production and marketing matchmaking, administrative assistance, among others. An interdisciplinary resource integration and counseling platform was also established to help their businesses grow steadily, and then proceed to expand business scale or pursue innovative development. The goal is for them to become benchmarks and drive other young farmers to pursue common prosperity and development.
Currently there are a total of 321 young farmers chosen from the first, second, and third edition of Top Hundred Outstanding Young Farmers Program. During the 2-year counseling period of the first edition from June 2013 to May 2015, the COA had recruited 5668 consultants, held 4 international and domestic seminars, given NT$28.14 million in equipment and facility subsidies, imported 189 items of new varieties or technology, assisted 269 cases of product or story design, imported 36 information or automated systems, and provided NT$4.09 million worth of subsidies to innovative value-added business plans. The business growth of young farmers who received counseling may be reflected in many growth aspects, such as expansion of business scale, improvement of product quality, and value added industry. The accumulated results show that there were 510 hectares of business expansion area, 243 products passed certification, 102 cases of innovative processing, and 353 distribution channels added, contributing to an average growth of 61% in overall production value. The second and third editions commenced in January 2015 and July 2016 respectively, and are currently underway.
(2) Establish local young farmers' club in different cities and counties to boost cluster cooperation
Assist municipal, county and district farmers' associations to establish 16 exchange service platforms for local young farmers. Currently there are 2314 farmers who are participating in the project. Through observation, practice, and networking activities based on various counseling measures that the government promotes, the short-term objective is to create an environment for the inheritance of agricultural heritage that fosters experience exchange, mutual cooperation, and collaborative growth. The mid-term objective is to guide young farmers to develop organizational operation and clustering cooperation through continuous brainstorming, critical thinking, and discussion. Lastly, the long-term objective is to encourage young farmers to develop towards agri-enterprise and link up with industry counseling resources through horizontal alliances. The ultimate goal is to develop a cluster industry with international competitiveness or local characteristics, so more young people may be motivated to work in agriculture and their social identity can be found.
III. Examples of mutual cooperation among new generation young farmers
Young farmers are equipped with expertise, enthusiasm, energy, autonomy, and high mobility. They are also good at using real-time information, organizing networking activities, and fostering social interaction. In recent years, young farmers' clubs in different cities and counties have built up various innovative mutual exchange and cooperative development models. A good example is when typhoon Nepartak ravaged Taiwan. In order to assist the agricultural reconstruction operation in Taitung County, the clubs in other counties voluntarily expressed willingness to go to the disaster area in order to help their colleagues. The COA also followed suit immediately with the “Young Farmers Help Each Other; Everyone Helps Small Farmers” Project. A necessary workers and volunteers internet matchmaking platform was set up by the Taitung County Farmers' Association, which worked in conjunction with 16 local young farmers’ clubs to call for professional, enthusiastic, and highly mobile young farmers to go into typhoon-stricken area and assist in post-disaster recovery and cleaning. This demonstrated the spirit of mutual cooperation and set up a good example for the development of young farmers' club in the future.
Young people’s creativity, passion, perseverance, and information analysis capability have always been the driving force behind social economic innovation and advancement. Counseling young people to work in agriculture would be the core strategy for elevating Taiwan's agricultural competitiveness. Not only will the COA continue to promote industry structure adjustment and integrate various counseling measures to achieve synergy, but also guide more young talents to dedicate themselves to work related to agricultural industrial chain with new perspectives from different professional fields. Hopefully in the process of counseling, young farmers may go from changing their minds to improving management and marketing capabilities, and then fulfill their social and environmental duties. Moreover, may they return to the agricultural production and marketing groups and carry out organizational reforms, or transform into agri-enterprises or social enterprises, thus building a solid foundation for Taiwan’s agricultural development in the future.