2016.9 (Issue No. 291)
Since time immemorial, rural villages have been the symbol of decline, wither, aging, and unproductiveness, with most of its young population leaving for cities. Nevertheless in recent years, many changes had taken place in rural areas as more and more highly-educated and professionally experienced young people started to show up in rural villages. Some of them are the second or third generation of farmers, and some are aspiring youths with lofty ideals to agriculture. They inject vigor and creativity to rural villages in Taiwan, contributing to a completely different new look.
The Soil and Water Conservation Bureau under the COA is responsible for the promotion of the Rural Regeneration Program, offering multiple channels and opportunities for young people from various fields such as design, network, information, service, and media to understand rural villages and work in agriculture. The program aims to upgrade and boost value-added agriculture, create characteristic local industry, pass down skills, and promote experiential education, sustainable ecology and sharing economy.
I. Added value upgrade through innovative marketing
The new generation of young farmers knows how to carry out production schedule planning and marketing management utilizing the internet, information technology and big data analyses; therefore is no longer shackled by weather conditions and asymmetric distribution information. They break through the limitation of time and location, extending their products from traditional retailing market to online trading and besides increasing the profit of agricultural products, they also stabilize their business development. Moreover, there are many young talents who enrich the packaging of agricultural products through creative design. These products are sold in department stores, coffee shops, bookstores, culture creative stores to be close to urban consumers, making them not merely agri-products but a way to relay rural affection and story.
A film studies graduate, Chang Jo-ting has developed a close tie to Liudong Village in Miaoli County’s Toufen Township through the Rural Regeneration and Young People Returning to Hometown Program. Taking advantage of her ample creativity and imagination, she led the community’s tea industry to experience a revolutionary change. With a passion for baking, she created various flavors of tea sauce that perfectly match different seasonal agricultural products and named them with creative connotation that aroused people's curiosity, such as Confidante, Fleeting Time, Imperial Beauty, 1 Carat, Melancholy Oolong, Green Tea Burglar, to name a few. Moreover, she created the Oriental Pine Tea by combining the abundant Taiwan pine found in the community with lemon, longan honey, and oriental beauty tea. She has also developed the sweet-sour Black Tea Sour by using black tea and lemonade. What's more, she had even created two kinds of tea soaps which she christened the “Black Salt Expert” and the “Pimple Terminator” that are perfect for exfoliation and warding off evil spirits. Chang has become an “alternative director” for the blockbuster tea sauces and soaps, which brought great changes to Liudong Village’s tea industry. (picture 1 and 2)
Picture 1: Chang Jo-ting (left), Wen Xin-yu (center) and Chen Guan-wen (right) stimulated the local industry in Liudong Village through the Rural Regeneration and Young People Returning to Hometown Program.
Picture 2: These tea sauces made with fruit and tea leaves are the embodiment of creativity and imagination.
Trained in industrial design, Liao Yi-ya participated in the Rural Up! Project and visited Shanjiao Village in Miaoli County’s Yuanli Township, and felt compelled to stay with the community in order to help its declining rush grass weaving craft. She brought new ideas to the community by introducing diverse modern designs and reshaping new value for rush grass. The traditional rush grass weaving craft began to come up with trendy handbags, purses, wine bags and notebooks. Moreover, items loved by the younger generation such as stationery, cell phone accessory, and bookmarks are being developed to enter bookstores, coffee shops, and emerging retailing channels such as Lovely Taiwan, Hayashi Department Store, among others.
Furthermore, Liao Yi-ya has set her eyes on the international market. The ground-breaking design of Iris Weave Curtain was awarded the Bronze Prize by the Japanese MUJI Award in 2013, and was invited by Chiba University’s Faculty of Engineering and the Japan Folk Crafts Museum for an exchange program. She also traveled to Germany to participate in the Bazaar Berlin. Taiwan’s rush grass craft was highly recognized overseas and received positive feedback from the international market. Moreover, the spokesperson of Big Shot Photography Exhibition, Shu Chi, even wore an evening gown made of rush grass to the event. The finest testament to the phrase: “small grass can also dream big”. Liao found back confidence and value for rush grass craftsmen and showed their persistence and passion to the whole world. (picture 3 and 4)
Picture 3: Liao Yi-ya revived the glory of rush grass weaving craft through the Rural Up! Project.
Picture 4: Develop creative rush grass products that meet the demand of younger generation through diversified design.
II. Friendly environment and sustainable development
In response to free trade, rapid extreme climate changes, and consumer's demand for food safety, Taiwan’s agriculture is at the pivotal point for a radical transformation and upgrade. Organic and safe agriculture would be the foundation for sustainable development and this concept becomes the common value among young generation of farmers who agree with the importance of treating land and environment fairly. Therefore, they reduce the use of chemical fertilizer and pesticide, adopt organic and environmental friendly cultivation, conserve ecology, rehabilitate farmland, and assist other farmers old and young to move towards friendly cultivation. With innovative thinking, they strive to find a balance between ecological conservation and agricultural development.
Specialized in information technology, Chen Hsin-hao was concerned about the soil contamination crisis in Puli Township, Nantou County. The long-term use of heavy chemical fertilizers and pesticides on water bamboo fields has resulted in rapid soil acidification, calcification, and cementation. This has caused the exhaustion of soil nutrients which is hampers crop growth. Not even the rain could seep into the ground through mollisols, and the disappearance of water springs would gradually take place. The endemic protected species of Taiwan white minnow is also caught in the middle of survival and population decline crisis.
Thus, Chen Hsin-hao decisively quit his job as inventory manager and returned home to become a farmer and make an example on his own farmland. He started by building an ecological pond to draw in clean spring water and achieved the co-existence of fish and crops so that the concept of green conservation farm could be promoted to tens of farmers in the area. After years of hard work, the number of Taiwan white minnow increased to 4500 individuals, and he also assisted farmers in the community to adopt environmental friendly cultivation in order to gradually revive his hometown’s precious fresh water springs.
Furthermore, he applied his training in information technology to work with local farmers in the collection of weather data to record the changes of temperature, humidity and soil temperature. He has developed a monitoring system that meets farmers’ demands, which is capable of monitoring micro-climate changes in real-time and controling green house shades and sprinklers remotely through smart-phones. Due to that achievement, Chen is now called the “Ironman Farmer” by fellow farmers.
Chen Hsin-hao also leads a group of young farmers who share his idea of healthy farming, to utilize new knowledge and seek for more resources. Through the merge of Rural Regeneration Program and Industrial Development Interdisciplinary Cooperation Program, safe agriculture and conservation of Taiwan white minnows were promoted. Therefore, pave a sustainable path for community industries and become a new example of ecological agriculture in Taiwan. (picture 5 and 6)
Picture 5: Chen Hsin-hao led his community to develop safe agriculture and repopulate Taiwan white minnow through the Rural Regeneration Program and the Industrial Development Interdisciplinary Cooperation Program.
Picture 6: Groups of people often pay visits to Yixin Community to learn about successful experiences of fish-crop co-existence.
III. Community commonwealth brings happiness
Most young farmers nowadays embrace their dream without pursuing individual profit but the commonwealth of the whole rural community instead. They have an open heart, wish to grow with the group and progress with new ideas. Not only do they promote their agricultural products but also their communities. More and more young talents decide to return to their hometowns and foster the development of community common-brand as well as the establishment of community cooperatives for the purpose of achieving sustainable community development. Furthermore, they actively share public service duties to reinforce the relationship between members of the community and thus to achieve common happiness.
Having the experience of marketing organic rice in China, Lo Yung-chang is good at market analyses and is optimistic about the uniqueness of colored rice in the world. By studying historical manuscripts, he found a unique species of black rice and devoted to its experimental cultivation in cooperation with agricultural PhD. who owned the patent. Through lab analyses, he found that black rice possesses higher nutritional values than white rice, such as anthocyanin, essential amino acids, micronutrient, dietary fiber, etc. Besides, advantages such as large grain, strong stem, wind damage and lodging resistance enabled black rice to differentiate itself from other types of rice in the market. To satisfy the urban need, soak-free mixed rice, brown rice, even nigiri sushi rice in small packages were developed. At the same time, new products hidden in the mountains of Taitung were successfully sold nationwide on e-commerce platforms through Rural Regeneration Program, which generated annual revenues of over NT$5 million and set the price of NT$300 / kg in the retailing market.
Starting this year, Lo Yung-chang encouraged his hometown community to adopt friendly farming and try black rice cultivation. He then purchased the harvest at 30% higher than market retail price per kilo and promoted ecological conservation jointly with Dian-guang Community, aiming to acquire the Green Conservation Label. He hoped to build at least 50 hectares of black rice production base that possesses unique ecological conservation value found nowhere else in the world. In the future, he hopes to set up community cooperatives and unite local resources to step into the international market. (picture 7 and 8)
Picture 7: For the health of the next generation, Lo Yung-chang cultivated black rice with friendly farming methods.
Picture 8: Black rice has higher resiliency and nutritional value, making it competitive in the international market.
Brand manager of Shi-shen Cun Black Tea in Yuchih Township, Nantou County, Chen Tai-ju used to work for the electronics industry in Taipei. After the world financial crisis in 2008, he returned to his hometown and started his own business. To his delight, the Rural Regeneration Program has just been introduced. He seized the opportunity and actively participated in community public affairs, which made him the best helping hand for communities to join the Program. He was then elected as secretary general of the Community Development Association and was tasked with leading the community to reach the goal step by step. In 2013, his community took part in the Rural Regeneration and Industrial Development Interdisciplinary Cooperation Program, during which the integration of black tea industry was discussed. He immediately realized that it was the chance his community was waiting for. Being an expert in business management, he noticed that farmers are usually at the far end of marketing strength and high profit. Therefore, through constant communication with farmers, a consensus was reached to integrate 13 villages in the Yuchih Township and establish a cooperative to purchase quality tea leaves at 20% higher than wholesale price and promote under the common-brand of Shi-shen Cun. Furthermore, a high standard large-scale processing plant was built to solve the problem of insufficient machine for individual farmers and poor tea-production environment condition.
Besides that, in order to expand multiple channels, Chen Tai-ju set up a retail shop in Sun Moon Lake, and redesigned the product packaging to strike deals with large enterprises for their gift orders. The new move generated a profit which is double compared with the previous year. He encouraged tea farmers to uphold the idea of friendly environment, commonwealth, and inheritance. He hopes to create a stage for younger generation to return home and join the cause. He also encourages young people who intend to return home to participate in local public welfare so as to build a beautiful home community. (picture 9 and 10)
Picture 9: Chen Tai-ju integrated 13 villages in the Yuchih Township and created the common-brand Shi-shen Cun Black Tea through the Rural Regeneration and Industrial Development Interdisciplinary Cooperation Program.
Picture 10: Shi-shen Cun Black Tea expands multiple marketing channels by redesigning product packaging and setting up retail shops.
The Soil and Water Conservation Bureau, COA has been actively promoting rural regeneration through systematic training courses and long-term counseling. In recent years, many rural communities have experienced transformation and thus attracted young people to return home. Through Young People Returning to Hometown Program, Rural Up! Project, Industrial Development Interdisciplinary Cooperation Program, Rural Community Business Management Counseling Project, among others, the SWCB has offered multiple choices and opportunities for young people to understand rural community, work in agriculture, while providing substantial assistance. Young generation of farmers demonstrated their creativity and vitality, applied their various expertises for the development of agriculture, rural living condition improvement, cultural skills inheritance, ecology conservation, agri-tourism promotion, and presented diverse value of agriculture. It is worth noting that they all have one thing in common: instead of pursuing personal benefit, they look for the commonwealth of the entire rural community. Besides actively participating in public affairs and reinforcing the relationship between members of the community, they also get involved in community development and prosperity through their own businesses. The rise of cross-generation youngsters is going to set in motion the rural transformation, and construct the formula for happiness. (picture 11)
Picture 11: COA Minister Tsao Chi-hung (5th from left in the second row) exchanged ideas with young farmers from all over the country to create a new future for agriculture, and made the following proclamation: “Light up Taiwan’s new agriculture. Young farmers are winners”.