The 2012 National Agricultural Summit, an unprecedented high-level meeting featuring the nation’s top agricultural officials from both central and regional agencies, took place on July 5 at the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), an affiliated agency of the Council of Agriculture (COA) stationed at Taichung City. As head of the host organization, COA Minister Chen Bao-ji explained that strengthened central-regional ties and cooperation are the key links in transforming the nation’s agricultural sector, stating that such partnerships will not only resolve the issue of excessive fallow farmlands, counter the destructive effects of natural disasters and liberalize trade for agricultural products, but also foster the development of regional specialty goods and nationwide value chains, all of which will help usher forth a new era of prosperity for the nation and its citizens.
Citing President Ma Ying-jeou’s Golden Decade National Vision blueprint, Minister Chen described the objectives of the 10-year strategy that was built upon the LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) concept, and led a discussion concerning methods for fulfilling livestock production quota, promoting the subsidy program for fishing vessel insurance, balancing local agricultural supply and demand and categorizing the nation’s lands based on their intrinsic properties.
In relations to the substantial agricultural damage and losses inflicted by the recent bouts of natural disasters, the majority of the agricultural officials described difficulties in gauging the true extent of damage and verifying the claims filed by victims seeking federal reimbursement. The COA minister replied that a special committee will soon be established to help regional authorities with disaster management and evaluation. Moreover, as part of the council’s efforts to monitor the feasibility and effects of the natural disaster reimbursement program, all regional agencies are welcomed to report any obstacles encountered and request the aid of the special committee.
LOHAS agriculture key to a ‘golden decade’ of sustainable prosperity
Founded upon the foundations of prosperity, peace, health, productivity and sustainability, a thriving LOHAS agricultural industry as outlined in the Golden Decade policy is being developed to increase the competitiveness of Taiwanese produce in oversea markets, to integrate domestic assets by restructuring the agricultural sector, to safeguard the nation’s food security by monitoring production quality and to introduce sustainable development through the revitalization of all available agricultural resources. Before the decade is over, the LOHAS movement is expected to transform the domestic agricultural sector into a highly competitive and financially profitable industry that is operated by the nation’s younger generations. Some of the policy’s objectives include the revitalization of 4,000 rural villages and communities by enhancing their ecological, scenic and cultural qualities, the reemployment of 50,000 hectares of fallow farmlands and the conservation of water in drought-prone regions by reducing water usage by 20 percent.
Livestock quotas implemented to ensure fair market prices
In response to the issue of hog overproduction during February, in which a supply glut triggered a dramatic decline in domestic pork prices, the council urged local hog farmers to not exceed their individual quotas by raising more animals than they are permitted to. Citing Article 22 of the Animal Industry Act, the COA explained that all city and county governments are required to draft a livestock production plan on an annual basis, in which quotas are carefully calculated for all poultry and husbandry operations within each district to prevent overproduction. As long as livestock farmers are willing to register with the federal livestock inventory and sell all their meat under the registered farm name, not only will they benefit from the government’s marketing and distribution programs, they will also receive assistance in terms of production management and infection prevention and control.
Federal subsidy system offers insurance to the fishing industry
The COA noted that the national fishing vessel insurance system can be considered a government-sponsored benefits program for the nation’s fishing industry; however, due to the fact that there was no official ceiling on federal subsidies for large-size fishing boats, the amount spent on insuring large-size fishing boats has ballooned in recent years. In comparison to these fishing vessels, smaller crafts that weigh less than 100 tons are usually uninsured and thus have not benefitted from the government’s subsidizing measures. Under the newly revised policy on fishing vessel insurance, authorities will now be focusing on the more efficient allocation of the program’s set budget by encouraging smaller-sized rafts to join the federal insurance program and spreading the aid money on a more evenly distributed basis. A subsidy cap has also been introduced to the program to help limit the amount of aid that can be allocated to one individual vessel.
Supply-demand adjustment policies to benefit the nation’s farmers
Conference members devoted a significant portion of the high-level meeting on developing potential methods of balancing agricultural supply and demand, especially since production output and prices have grown increasingly unstable under the barrage of extreme weather events in recent years. The general consensus reached in the July 5 meeting pointed towards implementing methods beyond controlling domestic supply; in the future, supply-demand adjustment policies will include a rewards system for successful agricultural exports, the unification of county farmland for the production of one regional specialty as well as the establishment of district sales channels. In addition, central and regional agencies should strengthen their cooperation by delegating all preparatory and adjustment measures prior to the start of the produce’s harvesting season – a move that would not only maximize governmental resources but would also lower the chances of having to salvage any undesirable setbacks once the season starts. The COA also pledged to increase consumer awareness on the multitude of agricultural produce available while fostering respect for the nation’s farming sector.
Categorizing the nation’s lands to maximize potential output
The categorization of available farmland will remain a focal point in the nation’s future land management policies, especially in regards to mitigation methods on combating the effects of climate change, the long-term food security of the island and the preservation of quality farmlands. Based on its natural characteristics, socio-economical influences, farming potential, geographical location and topsoil composition, the nation’s lands will be divided and ranked accordingly. Other determining factors include whether the land is flat or slopped, sited near irrigational resources, reserved for certain sector-specific developments, narrow and fragmented or extensive and smooth, in close proximity with an industrial park or bordering High Speed Rail (HSR) territory. The accurate and appropriate ranking of the nation’s lands will become the backbone of the government’s distribution programs concerning available agricultural resources, hence ensuring the full efficiency of the nation’s land management and deployment policies.
Devoting five years to revitalize half of the nation’s fallow lands
The COA also proposed several revolutionary changes to the current farmland management system in attempt to create more jobs for the agricultural sector and to strengthen the nation’s food security. Firstly, the COA’s proposal will reduce the amount of subsidies paid to owners of fallow land by subsidizing only one harvest instead of two, a move designed to encourage land owners to either grow a second crop or rent the land out to other farmers. Secondly, to encourage farmers to branch out and diversify their crops, the COA will lower its spending on public stock paddy rice and rent incentives but offer a new incentive program that awards farmers for adopting crops other than rice. Moreover, the Small Landlords and Big Tenant-Farmers Program enacted in May 2009 will also readjust its requirement levels on the amount of lease subsidies and the extent of gross leasable lands. Last but not least, the council will revamp its agricultural pension plans to make it more comfortable for elderly farmers to retire, which would pave the way for a new generation of young professionals to take root in the agricultural sector.
After the implementation of the COA’s latest proposals and related programs, the council hopes to revitalize half of the nation’s fallow lands within five years’ time. The policy suggestions were well-received by the panel of city and county government officials, who all expressed support for the central government’s goals in reviving fallow farmlands and creating more employment opportunities for the agricultural sector. The officials noted that, however, the central government need to not only introduce these new policies early on to the public, but to not neglect the retiring generation of aged farmers. Open and bilateral communication with the nation’s citizens will lower the chances of a public backlash and assist the COA’s programs in achieving their full potential and impact, they added.
COA marks all issues raised in the summit as priority areas
As a communication platform between the central and regional governments, the first-ever National Agricultural Summit has played an invaluable role in determining the country’s future agricultural developments, the council stated, adding that this exchange of viewpoints, experiences and policy suggestions will greatly help central policymakers to tailor agricultural strategies and solutions to regional needs. COA Minister Chen also pledged to oversee the operations on resolving the issues raised by regional agricultural heads, saying that closer ties among regional and central officials will help bring forth a bright, sustainable “golden decade” for the nation.