Promoting Rural Rejuvenation and Improving the Functioning of Rural Organizations
The policy of rural rejuvenation was codified in the Rural Rejuvenation Act of 2010, and we have been working to implement its provisions. We have completed a statement of the core principles and overall development directions to guide rural rejuvenation policies, as well as a detailed implementation plan for Phase One. We have been implementing rural rejuvenation in a planned and systematic way, promoting overall development of Taiwan’s rural areas.
The COA has created a platform for promotion of cross-disciplinary cooperation that links rural rejuvenation policy and rural industrial policy. The various units within the COA responsible for oversight and guidance of specific agro-industries are coordinating the use of their resources, and we have begun trial programs in cross-disciplinary cooperation in eight communities. We aim to assist communities in the rural rejuvenation process to develop in the direction of industrial specialization and professionalization.
The COA plays a very direct role in training professional human resources in rural communities. We have helped residents of rural communities to identify their unique natural and cultural resources, trying to reinvigorate people’s sense of hometown identity, so they will become more active in autonomously pursuing creative ideas to develop their local communities. As of the end of 2012, the COA had provided assistance to a total of 244 communities in coming up with autonomous rural rejuvenation plans.
The COA works to upgrade the quality of life in rural communities, including both the physical environment and the level of cultural activity. We have improved basic production conditions in a cumulative total of 958 rural communities, acted to conserve local ecological and cultural features, and promoted sustainable development of rural areas.
Production and marketing groups
The COA has led the way in organizing many “agricultural production and marketing groups” (APMGs) in Taiwan, and in 2012 we continued to work to improve organizational functionality, to promote more entrepreneurial management of APMGs, and to strengthen consulting services and financial assistance to APMGs.
Data from 2012 shows a total of 6,406 APMGs in the following categories: (1) fruit, 2,321 (36%); (2) vegetables, 1,954 (31%); (3) flowers, 403 (6%); (4) specialty crops, 381 (5.9%); (5) rice, 359 (5%); (6) grains, 188 (3%); (7) honeybees, 67(1%); (8) fungi and mushrooms, 65(1%); (9) other crops, 7; (10) other types of rural industries, 661.
Training high-quality human resources
Improved functions at the Farmers Academy
■ In 2011, the Farmers Academy held a total of 120 courses with 3,316 participants; organized practical on-site farm training for 211 young farmers; and held on-site farm activities for non-farmers who have an interest in agriculture, totaling 1,656 participants in 48 groups, to raise citizen awareness of agricultural problems and agriculture’s importance to our country.
■ We have constructed a platform for accessing Farmers Academy information and services via the Internet. It provides a number of services, such as online enrollment, online fee payment, organization of on-site visits to farms, introductions to farmers markets, and digital courses and e-learning. The site has so far received 380,431 hits, helped coordinate on-site farm visits for 101 persons, constructed 107 information sets about activities related to farmers markets, helped students participate in 75 farmers markets, constructed a function called “find products, find sales channels,” and introduced 11 sales outlets to purchase products from 23 students. The Farmers Academy has also so far produced 25 issues of its e-newsletter, with the number of subscribers reaching 10,765.
■ The COA has also been working to close the urban-rural “digital gap,” and we have produced new online courses for animal husbandry and marketing of agro-products. As of the end of 2012 there were a cumulative total of 97 courses available on the Farmers Academy website.
Community human resources training
The COA has created a curriculum for training people to lead development in their own local communities in line with the spirit of “bottom up” rejuvenation of rural areas. As of the end of December of 2012, we had provided training to a total of 92,821 course attendees in 2057 communities. Of these, 297 communities have completed Stage 4 training, and 244 have drafted their own autonomous community rejuvenation plans. We are steadily implementing rural development that will ensure sustainability of rural lifestyles and communities, growth in their local economies, and protection of their local ecologies.
Deepening cultural and economic activities in rural communities
The COA has coordinated work in 97 rural communities to develop 167 special local agricultural products or processed products, creating employment for 630 persons in their home communities. We have also organized activities centered on specific aspects of rural culture, such as workshops, case studies, inter-community visits (1653), exhibitions of local accomplishments (72), story-telling competitions (four), performance competitions (three), rice-stalk art projects (20 works), and construction that focuses on unique community cultural features (28 locations). We have also coordinated the work of 199 farmers’ associations in organizing youth farming and rural employment activities (626 groups), lectures (455), public services (576), rural youth exchange visits (21 persons), and hosting of foreign youths (11 persons).
The COA has provided guidance in 146 cases of community forestry, set up or coordinated the creation of community ecological education stations, held 14 courses of education and training, completed 366 cases of community ecological surveys plus educational promotion, and assisted 65 communities and groups to do ecological research and ecological construction.
The COA has also promoted the development of local industries in rural communities, strengthened the distinctiveness and creativity of unique rural industries, and approved 123 marketing and cultural activities, with 730,000 persons participating, and 984 mentions in the media.
Construction of a support system for rural living
Improving life management skills of rural women
The COA encourages rural women to participate in lifelong education, aiming to reduce the knowledge gap and increase their skills for daily life. The COA provides subsidies to 250 farmers’ associations for the purpose of classes in home economics. Subjects include promoting the use of special local agricultural products, health and nutrition, and protection of women’s rights. The goals are to increase the autonomy of rural women and open up new income opportunities. In 2012 there were 2,369 classes for 58,343 rural women.
The COA also arranged 12 classes in home-care and home-management skills for 360 persons, increasing not only their personal homemaking abilities but also their possibilities for part-time work outside the home. We have also worked to train rural women in handicrafts skills, so they can devise new products made from local materials and which incorporate special features of rural communities. So far we have assisted seven city and county farmers’ associations in developing over 60 new products, held releases and press events for new products, and put these products on display in popular tourist destinations in Taiwan, thereby allowing the women involved in this program to earn additional income.
Finally, the COA operates rural community services centers in 24 locations, and we have trained 669 volunteers to work at these centers, which provide elderly rural dwellers with a network of information and services related to medical care, insurance, and home care.
Better quality of life for rural seniors
The COA assists farmers over 65 years of age to manage their retirements. First, we help them retire in coordination with the “Small Landlords, Big Tenant Farmers” program, so as to rent out their land to tenant farmers. Second, in 2012 we guided 205 township level farmers’ associations in organizing 207 “life improvement classes” for the elderly. We designed courses on subjects such as “economic and environmental safety,” “physical and psychological health,” and “life and community participation,” with a total of 10,345 persons participating. Course content included recognizing depression, suicide prevention, nutrition, minimizing the risk of contagious illnesses, understanding climate change, and life adjustment.
The COA also promotes creativity and learning among rural seniors. In 2012, 18 farmers’ associations assisted in the formation of performance troupes involving 540 seniors. Programs like these give seniors the chance to be more active in the community, participate in creative and learning activities, and live more enriched lives in retirement.
Strengthening rural functional organizations
Amendments to the Irrigation Associations Organization Act became law on January 30, 2012. The amendments centralize oversight of IAs in the COA. Two irrigation associations formerly under the jurisdiction of the Taipei Municipal Government were brought under the COA, improving management of agricultural water resources, upgrading capabilities for responding to droughts and flooding, raising the efficiency of irrigation canal management, and improving the production environment for agriculture.
The COA has been monitoring and guiding IAs on the basis of the Irrigation Associations Organization Act, and, in order to make their structures and operations more sound, in 2102 we continued to amend relevant regulations including (a) those governing election and recall of President, (b) those governing election and recall of Meeting Affairs Commissioner, (c) those governing payment of transportation, mailing, and communications fees for Meeting Affairs Commissioner, and (d) those governing the forms to be used for reporting an IA’s final accounts of the year. Moreover, in order to reduce the financial burden on farmers, in 2012 the COA continued to provide NT$2.228 billion in subsidies to pay the membership dues of members at 15 IAs.
Amendments to the Fishermen’s Association Act were announced on January 30, 2012. As of February 1, 2012, the “Taiwan Province Fishermen’s Association” became the “National Fishermen’s Association.” After nine months of planning, on November 8 the formal unveiling ceremony was held for the new organization. President Ma Ying-jeou attended and made congratulatory remarks, and COA Minister Chen Bao-ji presented the National Fishermen’s Association with its official seal and certificate of registration.
Currently, Taiwan has one national fishermen’s association (FiA) and 39 district FiAs, with more than 420,000 members. These FiAs are responsible for policy promotion, for spreading information to fishermen about the latest regulations, for improving the lives of their members, and for ensuring that infrastructure in fishing communities meets local needs. In 2012 two national work conferences of FiA executive directors from all levels were held. In addition, there are quarterly regional conferences (for south, central, and north Taiwan) where FiA directors, standing supervisors, and executive directors can meet and collectively discuss fisheries affairs. In addition, the COA has worked through FiAs to organize many home economics guidance courses, 4-H programs, extension education, and professional training, to strengthen their organizations and maintain close ties with members.
Amendments to the Farmers’ Association Act were promulgated on January 30, 2012, setting the stage for the creation of a National Farmers’ Association. In addition, to assist farmers’ associations (FaAs) to hold their 2013 elections, and to raise the management capabilities of FaAs at all levels, other relevant laws and regulations were also amended, including: the detailed bylaws for implementation of the Farmers’ Association Act, the regulations governing review and certification of qualifications for membership in local level FaAs, the regulations governing the election and recall of FaA officials, the regulations governing selection of FaA executive directors, the regulations governing performance evaluations of FaAs, and the standards governing maximum staff size and personnel appropriations at Taiwan Province FaAs at all levels. To ensure that elections for new FaA officials would go smoothly, we held 14 work conferences to deal with a variety of matters related to the latest round of elections, with 1,500 attendees from local governments as well as local FaA executive directors.
The COA in 2012 also provided subsidies to 24 FaAs to improve their extension and education facilities, in order to upgrade the services at local FaAs.
Improving the functioning of the rural financial system
Improving services and management at rural financial institutions
The COA has continued to insist that the credit departments of farmers’ and fishermen’s associations (F/FAs) reduce their non-performing loans, increase their allowance for doubtful accounts, and raise the quality of assets. Total deposits at credit departments of F/FAs in 2012 were NT$1.6 trillion, while outstanding loans were NT$812.5 billion. Before-tax net profit was NT$4.9 billion. The non-performing loan ratio was 1.54%. Total deposits of the Agricultural Bank of Taiwan (ABT) were NT$653.6 billion; outstanding loans were NT$194.8 billion and before-tax net profit was NT$564 million. These results show that F/FA credit departments and the ABT have been continually improving their operations.
Continuing to process policy-oriented special agricultural loans In order to promote agricultural development and increase rural welfare, the COA continues to process policy-oriented special agricultural loans. In 2012 we provided NT$28.2 billion in new loans to 54,000 farmers and fishermen. At the end of the year, outstanding loans were NT$116.9 billion, benefiting 260,000 farmers and fishermen. We also assisted about 36,000 farmers and fishermen to use the agricultural credit guarantee mechanism so that they could raise NT$218.2 billion of capital.
Helping credit departments to provide diversified financial services To enhance the quality and competitiveness of services provided by the credit departments of farmers’ and fishermen’s associations (F/FAs), the COA assigned the Agriculture Bank of Taiwan (ABT) to integrate the operations of 302 F/FAs credit departments (with a total of 1,162 operating locations) in order to expand services to the public. These credit departments now process payment collection for institutions and corporations. By the end of 2012 there were over 9.93 million such transactions totaling nearly NT$37.7 billion.