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  Agriculture in Taiwan in the 21st century faces a variety of major issues. In terms of the global agricultural situation, we see rapid economic and trade liberalization, the growing severity of climate change, and the food crisis. Domestically, we have the rapid diversification of consumer preferences, the aging of the agricultural labor force, a chronic lack of efficient scale in farm operations, competition for rural resources, and disputes over economic and social welfare policies. Policy implementation has faced growing challenges, and the missions and burdens of the Council of Agriculture have become heavier over time. This is a time for new thinking, otherwise it will be impossible to cope with these rapid changes in the policy environment.

  The year 2012 marked the final year of the “Excellence in Agriculture” four-year plan. Here at the Council of Agriculture, we have devoted a great deal of effort to ensuring food safety, to doing research and development needed by the major rural industries and to transferring this R&D to economic actors, and to promoting the rural leisure and tourism industry. Enormous progress has been made. We have also been very pro-active in encouraging the adoption of new operating models that integrate human, land, and water resources.

Policy achievements in 2012

  The value of production in 2012 under the “Excellence in Agriculture” program was NT$134.5 billion, an increase of 8.5% over 2011, and 44% over 2008. Revenues from transfer of rural-sector R&D reached a new high in 2012, at NT$76.46 million, an increase of 9.8% over the previous year. Exports of agro-products totaled US$5.08 billion, an increase of 8.8% over the previous year. Of these, grouperㄊ increased by 36% and orchids by 16.4%. In 2012 Taiwan sold US$790 million in agro-products to mainland China, an increase of 17.6% over 2011, while the trade deficit in cross-strait trade in agro-products fell from US$281 million in 2007 to just US$38 million last year. Flowers from Taiwan took the gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show in the UK for the second straight year, as well as a top prize in the indoor-flower competition at the 2012 Floriade in the Netherlands. Superior breeding hogs from Taiwan, developed under a special COA program, were exported to Vietnam, marking the first foothold for marketing of superior Taiwan breeding hogs to Southeast Asia. Taiwan- manufactured wines and liqueurs took one gold and three silvers medals in international spirit competitions in 2012. And the rural leisure and tourism industry racked up NT$8.51 billion in value, with more than 18.5 million separate individual visits, increases of 16.9% and 32.1% respectively over 2011. These facts are evidence that Taiwan’s rural economy is increasingly successful in terms of both diversification and international recognition.

Restructuring of the cultivation system

  The COA is the middle stage of a program for “Restructuring of the Cultivation System, Revitalization of Agricultural Land.” Specific details for this stage were determined through a long-term process of 26 conferences and repeated discussions in order to reach consensus. These details were then sent to the Executive Yuan for approval on November 27, 2012. Implementation began in 2013. This program alters the fallow-land policy that had been in place for nearly 30 years, and will have a far-reaching impact. In the course of implementing this program, we expect to revitalize the use of agricultural land in a manner that also takes into account changes in our industrial structure and our human resources structure.

Traceability and market differentiation for domestic beef

  The COA has launched a traceability system for domestic beef and it is one link of the government’s cloud services. The purpose is to promote transparency of the beef-cattle raising, slaughtering, and marketing process for domestic beef products. In 2012 we conducted 21 explanatory conferences of the “place of origin” labeling system and inspected 272 locations in Taiwan where domestic beef is sold, in order to ensure implementation of the place-of-origin labeling system. We also instructed beef cattle farmers in the use of ear tags and compiled a database with over 30,000 entries on the “place of residence” of beef cattle across Taiwan. On November 1 of 2012, we completed construction of the “Domestic Beef Traceability Information Network.” By means of this network, at five demonstration locations consumers can make inquiries about the beef-cattle farm where a particular animal originated, and about the date when, and identity of the slaughterhouse where, it was slaughtered. These measures will strengthen place-of-origin labeling and market differentiation for domestic beef products, allowing citizens to have confidence in purchasing domestic beef.

The Golden Corridor Program

  The COA plans to invest NT$3 billion between 2013 and 2020 in the Golden Corridor Program. The Corridor is a demonstration area that runs alongside the High-Speed Railway, within three kilometers on either side of the HSR. The focus of the Corridor will be on conducting agricultural activity using significantly reduced amounts of water and energy. This program includes: (1) establishment of a “special production zone for water-saving agriculture,” promotion of the cultivation of crops that require less water and are drought resistant, and enlargement of the scale of agricultural operations; (2) promotion of modernized water- saving irrigation technology; (3) strengthening the application of water-saving techniques/technologies (including the application of information technology); (4) promotion of the use of high-tech energy-saving and water-saving greenhouses and waste-recycling animal sheds.

  Other components of the program include development of the leisure industry, increased sophistication and diversification of marketing for traditional agriculture, and giving experience to a new generation of farmers. The corridor will serve as a first step for the eventual spread of a new operating model for agriculture that uses less water, is more environmentally friendly, and produces higher incomes.

Rural tourism and recreation

  We also aim to internationalize agrotourism by attracting overseas visitors. As of the end of 2012, the following had been accomplished: (a) formal designation of a cumulative total of 74 “recreational agriculture areas”; (b) assistance to 288 individual leisure farms to register and get their permits; (c) promotion of a service-quality certification system for leisure farms, in order to encourage upgrading of service at these venues. In 2012 there were a total of 213,857 visits by foreign travelers to leisure farms, an increase of 28% over 2011.

  The COA has also coor dinated the construction of yacht piers at three fishing ports (Badouzi, Anping, Wushi) that offer a total of 114 berths for leisure craft sized 12 to 60 meters. These should help drive a variety of peripheral industries, attracting people to the coast for sport fishing and marine recreation, and to experience the way of life of fishing communities.

  The COA is also developing plains forest park areas. Planning has been completed for three such areas: Danongdafu in Hualien County, Aogu Wetland in Chiayi County, and Linhousilin in Pingtung County. In 2012 we organized a “sea of flowers” scenic event and an international arts exhibition in the Hualien forest area, and on November 24 held the formal opening ceremonies for the Chiayi site and organized ecological activities and leisure functions in the forest area.

Looking to the future

  Agriculture in Taiwan must move pro-actively to meet the challenges of economic and trade liberalization. We cannot limit ourselves merely to conservative, defensive approaches. Therefore, our strategic vision is to transform agriculture in Taiwan from “agriculture as production” to “agriculture as creation of new value chains.” This strategy is based on three core principles: (i) benefit farmers; (ii) develop value-added agriculture; and (iii) ensure sustainable development. We will go beyond traditional sectoral boundaries to increase value- added and develop agricultural value chains. Bringing intellectual property rights into play and adopting new business models, we will assist in the establishment of brand names. We will develop both “large and high-quality” industries that are highly competitive at the international level and “small but beautiful” industries that draw on unique local products or cultural content.

  Agricultural policy must also aim at the most efficient possible combination of agro-industries with human, land, and water resources. And given that food safety is the foundation of the competitive advantage of Taiwan agricultural brands, we will continue to emphasize and expand the use of systems for certification, labeling, and “cloud” traceability.

  The COA is already drawing up plans and gradually implementing these and other measures. These are all challenging tasks, but perhaps the most difficult will be in changing the way we think about agriculture, abandoning the old habit of thinking of agriculture purely as “cultivation of the land” and instead seeing it as an element in “creation of a value chain.” New challenges and new conditions require new approaches and ideas! We hope that everyone, whether in or outside the agricultural sector, will work together to usher in a new era for Taiwan’s agriculture!

Bao-ji Chen, Ph.D. 
Council of Agriculture
December, 2013