1. Background to the program
Agriculture in Taiwan faces numerous problems, including intense competition arising from trade liberalization, small scale of operations, a need to raise the self-sufficiency rate for staple foods, aging of the agricultural workforce, lack of successors to take over farm operations, and a gap in application of the training of agricultural personnel. But there also opportunities and advantages for the development of domestic agriculture, including business opportunities in value-added industries in new value chains, the serious attention devoted to the multi-functional values of agriculture, and the sufficiency of agricultural technological capabilities. However, young people going into agriculture face a variety of barriers to entry, in areas that include technology, land, capital, and marketing. In addition, the rural labor force is rapidly aging, there are few people to take over and operate farms, and there is a severe shortage of agricultural labor at the base level. Therefore, the Council of Agriculture (COA), after studying international guidance practices and the domestic situation for agricultural industries, drew up the New Farmers Training Program, to be promoted in two stages over a ten-year period. Promotion of the first stage of the program (from 2017 through 2022) was approved by the Executive Yuan on December 21, 2016.
2. The vision for the program
The goals of the program are to build an environment that will attract young people into agriculture, overcome barriers to entry to agriculture as a profession, comprehensively train outstanding young people to go into agriculture, encourage innovation and value-added in agriculture, and revitalize the rural workforce.
3. Measures to promote the program
(1) Guidance measures at the school side
A. In order to increase students’ interest in agriculture, the COA promotes getting university students from agriculture programs and agricultural schools out to farms and agribusinesses to undertake terms of career exploration, thereby increasing students’ practical agricultural experience, testing what they have learned, and achieving the goal of putting what they have learned into practice.
Ｂ. The COA also offers publicly funded agricultural classes, through which it guides students in entering agriculture as a profession after graduation and trains new farmers to have innovative operational capabilities. Since starting in 2015 through the 2020 academic year, a total of 827 publicly funded students in 24 classes have attended six schools (National Chiayi University, National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, Mingdao University, National Ilan University, National Taitung Junior College, and National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology). Publicly funded students spend four years in school, and only receive diplomas after passing a final evaluation. After graduation, these students must go into agriculture or work in an agribusiness for at least four years. Those who go into actual farming are pro-actively offered training in farm management, priority access for purchasing land, start-up loans, and other government guidance measures, with the objective of developing outstanding agricultural operators.
C. In coordination with the New Southbound Policy, the COA recruits overseas Chinese young people from New Southbound Policy partner countries to come to Taiwan to study or receive training in agriculture-related fields, linked to agriculture curriculum design and the creation of internship mechanisms, in order to supplement the supply of manpower and to become management talent for Taiwan agriculture to penetrate Southeast Asian markets.
D. In coordination with the Youth Education and Employment Savings Accounts Program and to supply new agricultural professionals, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor provide educational and employment subsidies of NT$10,000 a month for a maximum of three years, so that people who participate for the full three years can receive savings of NT$360,000. Those who wish to pursue higher education can apply for publicly funded agricultural classes and will be given additional points on their applications. Those who wish to go into agriculture as a profession can apply for the COA’s Loan for Youths Establishing Agricultural Businesses and other guidance measures for young farmers.
(2) Guidance measures at the workplace side
A. The COA offers systematic training through the Farmers’ Academy, providing agricultural professionals with needed expertise, technology information, and internship opportunities. Diversified and systematic training has been designed based on the needs of agricultural industries and farmers, as the Farmers’ Academy offers introductory, primary-level, advanced, and high-level courses, covering subjects that include agricultural general knowledge, production technology, professional technological improvement, quality upgrading, and operational management, with the goal of training outstanding agricultural talent.
B. To address the urgent need in the agricultural sector for technology management talent and technology talent stationed overseas, the COA offers special recruitment oriented classes and special industrial classes. A curriculum combining learning with practice has been designed for these classes, which aim to help businesses in agricultural industries to reduce recruitment costs and precisely train talent.
C. The COA also organizes individualized one-on-one guidance for the Top 100 Young Farmers, integrating guidance resources from government, academia, and industry to provide two years of individualized personal training to each young farmer in production technology and operational management. Moreover, based on each individual’s progress, the COA provides needed assistance with things like production, processing, warehousing, and sales; facilities and equipment; loans and capital; and marketing guidance. These measures help overcome early operational difficulties, inculcate business-type management capabilities, and improve overall innovative thinking.
D. The COA has guided farmers’ associations at all levels to establish platforms through which local young farmers can interact, leading the way to greater organization, resource integration, and collective cooperation. Moreover, these platforms create an environment for exchanges of ideas, mutual cooperation, and sharing of experiences in agricultural production and marketing, and develop a stronger sense of professional and social identity for young farmers.
E. The COA assists young farmers to overcome barriers to entry into agriculture, such as lack of land, capital, facilities and equipment, marketing know-how, and management skills, by arranging preferential loans for young farmers in order to provide them with needed capital; promoting the Land Bank and the Small Landowners, Big Full-time Farmers policy to help them get access to farmland; guiding them to join production-and-marketing groups, cooperatives, and farmers’ markets to help them develop marketing and sales channels; and establishing the “Young Farmers Guidance Platform” to make it easier for young farmers to access information and consulting services.