2016.4 (Issue No. 286)
Due to the rise in public awareness of ecological environment, food self-sufficiency ratio and food safety in recent years, the public now pays more attention to the issues of environmental sustainability, such as local production for local consumption, low-carbon diet, food safety, sustainable development of farmlands, and ecological maintenance. They all highlight the value of agriculture in terms of economy, society, and environment. Nevertheless, Taiwan’s agriculture is facing several problems regarding small and scattered arable area, aging farmer population, shortage of business managers, gap between education and employment, and diseconomies of scale. Therefore, it is necessary to urgently introduce the youth into Taiwan’s agriculture. In recent years, the Council of Agriculture (COA) has been promoting various programs for the purposes of training outstanding young people to work in agriculture, rejuvenating rural labor force and improving young farmers’ professionalism in farming. The program will assist farmers to cope with the ever-changing consumer market and the impacts of liberalization of international trade. Thus, new opportunities can be found and overall competitiveness can be enhanced for Taiwan’s agriculture.
II. Training program for young farmers
The administrative objective of the COA is to foster diverse, interdisciplinary and outstanding young people in the service of agriculture so as to activate agricultural industrial chain as well as innovative development. The COA has been dedicating to the promotion of The Development of New Agricultural Value Chain which advocates out-of-the-box thinking away from traditional production system and cost reduction. The integration of market analysis, innovation, technology, processing, creative culture, recreation, and marketing can be achieved through innovative thinking and cross-industry cooperation, serving as a measure for building new industrial value chains and enhancing value-added agriculture, and this is creating more innovative career opportunities in agriculture. The COA hopes that the young generation’s creativity can become a pivotal point for Taiwan’s agriculture.
First of all, in order to encourage more young people to go into agri-business, the COA launched the New Agriculture Movement in 2006 to activate agricultural manpower, including the Wandervögel Project which focused on enabling the young generation experience agriculture, and the Gardener Project which encouraged middle-aged farmers to return to the field. Furthermore, in 2009 and 2010, the training branches of the COA such as the Livestock Research Institute (LRI), the District Agricultural Research and Extension Stations (DARES), and the International Center for Land Policy Studies and Training (ICLPST) jointly organized vocational training for unemployed young people to learn basic agricultural skills and how to maintain basic living standard, based on manpower demand of long-term agricultural development. The objective is to train successive generations for agriculture and absorb surplus urban population back to rural areas, and to inject new blood into traditional agriculture.
Later on, for the purpose of integrating and promoting systematic training program for agriculture, the COA coordinated the researching, educational and promotional resources of its DARESs to establish Farmers’ Academy and build up academic network training, including preliminary, basic, advanced and superior level courses. Therefore, the project offers lifelong learning opportunities to the people who intend to work in agriculture as well as to professional farmers who seek continuing education. The program set up occupational competency standard (OCS) for different agricultural industries as reference for the design of standardized training courses. In the meantime, it arrangeed field internships for trainees to work in farms with the purpose of enhancing their cultivation techniques and management abilities through hands-on practice and training. This would help them to become competent agricultural manpower with global perspective and advanced managerial skills.
Those returning young farmers almost receive assistance from relevant authorities indirectly through their parents, friends, or teachers when facing the challenges and problems of all aspects after they engage in the actual practices of agriculture. Therefore, the COA has promoted counseling to young farmers since 2013. Every two years, “Hundred Young Farmers” are selected and offered a 2-year period counseling. The COA also established a companion and resource integration counseling platform through DARESs. It then proceeded to solve the problems in terms of farmland, facility construction, business fund, technology improvement, financial management, information tool, processing R&D, and marketing through one-on-one counseling. Moreover, assistance plans such as subsidies for facilities and equipments, and a loan of up to NT$5 million with zero interest for three years can be granted to assist young farmers in establishing stable operations and move on to expand the scale or to develop innovative value so as to become role models for other young farmers. Different from farmers who overly relied on government subsidies in the past, these young farmers need competence and opportunity to realize their dreams so that they may bring more young farmers to join in for the development of agricultural prosperity.
Furthermore, in order to care for those young farmers who were not selected as “Hundred Young Farmers”, the COA actively counseled farmers' associations in different municipalities to establish 16 networking and communication platforms to attract more local young farmers to join in. The objective is to create a positive environment where local young farmers can exchange ideas, brainstorm, cooperate, and share the agricultural experiences. With the help of this platform, they can meet many good friends in this field. This is a space where young farmers can let their energy, passion and creativity run freely. The platform can also offer courses apart from technical training, so that young farmers can all be brought together for the cause and continue to lead more people to join in.
Then, for the purpose of integrating various counseling measures, the COA specifically proposed the New Generation of Agricultural Workers Training Program to the Executive Yuan, aiming to make a complete guide for young people seeking employment in agriculture. This serves as the engine that drives forward policies such as Agro-Productivity 4.0, Taiwan Bio-economy Industry Development Program, e-commerce and agricultural product marketing, agro-technology industry's global logistics, and so on.. Hopefully this would lead young people to devote to agriculture with creative thoughts and instill new power source for the sustainable development of agriculture through interdisciplinary cooperation, market orientation, intelligent production management, and value-added creative service.
The said program designed 4 main strategies, 12 promotion measures and relevant sub-projects with the objective of offering comprehensive training to young farmers and thus reviving rural industry development. The first strategy is to take school education as the foundation for development then link up with and extend to the training background of young agricultural workers so as to increase the percentage of students with agriculture degrees working in the industry. At the same time, it hopes to incite interdisciplinary students or other young people's interest in agriculture. The second strategy is to elevate the value of agricultural expertise, foster the circulation of human resource and demand information, refine in-service training system, set up talent demand information platform, and speed up the cultivation of professionals for the industry, all based on industrial movement and development. The third strategy is to assist young farmers in achieving steady business operation through networking cooperation, and then expand to become enterprises or corporations by gradually developing cooperative and innovative business models, thus contributing to building compact but refined local clusters or large but high-quality brand businesses while increasing competitiveness for agriculture. The fourth strategy is to encourage young generation to take root in rural communities, strengthen the link between people, soil and water, establish continuous local industries, and forge reborn rural communities that foster both good production and living environment which will attract younger generation to settle down and pass down the tradition of sustainable industry.
III. Future prospects
Facing future changes of industrial structure and challenges brought by trade liberalization, the young farmers' business operation models and guidance requirement would become quite diversified. Taiwan’s agriculture also needs to move towards innovation with added value, with the goal of becoming a safe and excellent food source that offers rich and diverse rural experiences. It creates new opportunities for the industry and maintains a better ecological environment so that Taiwan’s agriculture may become a whole new industry with global competitiveness in the future.
Taiwan’s agriculture has always maintained technical advantages accumulated from a long-term experience. All COA’s branches have acquired adequate production and variety improvement know-how, and professional marketing personnel. Under the Small Landlords and Big Tenants Program, and Young Farmer Guidance Program, the COA has assisted young farmers’ businesses to grow stably through its DARESs’ professional and local expertise. Moreover, by duplicating and promoting successful examples while enhancing peer interaction and influence among young farmers, it is possible to stimulate industrial clustering, integration and value-added development; therefore building a system of operation and social network for agricultural workers would change future industry management models. It is necessary to develop characteristic and value-added local agriculture by using technology, management and manpower innovation as foundation, complemented by interdisciplinary cooperation and creative thinking. Thus, the commercialization and corporate expansion can be achieved by applying technological innovation. It is also imperative to construct a youthful, highly competitive, and globalized innovative agriculture, so as to provide the new generation of agricultural workers with professional and adequate training channel and energy.