Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ginger: a root of Taitung's destruction

No days like this one this weekend, the weather service is saying...

The returns are high, the risks are low, and the damage is immense.  FocusTaiwan:
For farmers to harvest old ginger root on a 1 jia (2.3-acre) plot in the mountains, they only have to spend around NT$1.2 million (US$39,328) to prepare the soil and grow and harvest the crop, but can earn NT$6 million in return, said Hu Wu-jen (胡武仁), secretary of the Yanping Township Office.

"The risks are low and the profits are good. Of course ginger farmers are running up the mountains," said Hu, who used to be a ginger farmer himself.

He said most farmers planting ginger in the mountains rent the land for a year from indigenous people, who may not have the NT$300,000 needed to prepare a 2.3-acre plot.

So the indigenous people rent their land to ginger farmers and when they get their land back after a year, it has already been prepared for cultivation and use, said Hu, calling it a "win-win" situation for the indigenous people and ginger farmers.

The ginger farmers look for new pastures after a year because the old ginger root they grow "is picky when it comes to the soil" and needs virgin soil for the best results, said a farmer surnamed Chang.
Under the current laws, according to the article, aborigines can cultivate a plot of land. That is, if the government has allocated it for that purpose (or as pasture). Local aborigines cannot transfer or rent that land to others, unless they are relatives. Note that the control and definition of who owns what belongs to the government, which is run by outsiders. The aboriginals have lost control of their land to the Han. Even when it is "theirs"...

Ginger cultivation has other issues associated with it. Not mentioned in the article is pesticides. This PHD thesis observes:
One applies fertilizer, organic fertilizers, and agro-medicine (nongyao), which harm your body, when growing ginger…many people [use these agrochemicals]…[The gingers] used to grow quite easily and in relatively larger sizes, but now they only grow to be 10 cm long (roughly 4 inches)… These gingers get sick (shengbing) and people keep spraying pesticide…
The thesis also notes that after ginger is planted, the land is not arable for many years. Another issue associated with ginger is landslides.
When asked about how a landslide took place, an experienced Bunun farmer in his early 60s offered his opinion on the design of a ginger farm, “What one should do [after plowing a large area of land] is to dig a trench along the bottom edge of the ginger farm and pile rocks along it to build a base [to make up for the loss of vegetation]” (March 31, 2010). This local narrative redirected the perception of landslide risk to how land is farmed rather than simply blaming highland agriculture as the overarching factor for causing landslides (Sheng, 1966).


In Vakangan, one can spot the cultivation of ginger sitting on hills along and above residential houses. While some individuals in the community fear or talk about these plantations as landslides waiting to happen, especially given the region’s proneness to hurricanes, it is also a plantation that offers job opportunities for many local people. Nonetheless, when looking closely into the cycle that drives the plantation, one finds that the risk of landslide is not so simple and straightforward.
This conflict between aboriginals and Han over land plays out in many ways. Another article from the same day tells the story of the area of Dingyanwan and its Han farmers. It was declared a forest reservation area and some farming was allowed. But then the government decided to plant trees and stop the farming. Then. in 1963...
A total of 13 farmers in Dingyanwan were sent to prison for 13 days for obstructing the execution of public duties before being released after paying fines, but the conflict between the farmers and the government has continued to simmer for 50 years.

In 1976, local farmers filed a petition to maintain their farming operations on the land, but a joint investigation concluded that the fields should still be used for afforestation, and farmers were asked by the Forestry Bureau to remove their crops.

The farmers stalled and ignored the request, and in 2001, the Forestry Bureau turned tough and accused over 70 farmers in Dingyanwan of occupying state-owned lands. Prosecutors decided, however, not to prosecute the case.

The bureau then filed civil actions against the farmers to recall the land on the charge of estrepement -- referring to destructive waste of the land committed by a tenant.

When the farmers found that they had no access to proof favorable to their claims, they lost their cases and were ordered to return the lands they worked within a designated period of time.
In 2012 the local legislator "negotiated" with the forestry bureau for the farmers, who were then allowed to plant fruit trees. As the article notes, there was a neglected group...

The problem was that the deal left out a major stakeholder in the area, indigenous Puyumas who consider the land to be their jurisdiction and see the farmers as nothing more than illegal squatters.
Puyuma representatives said in a meeting with the local government on Oct. 28, 2014 that if Dingyanwan's status as a protected forest area is removed, the land should be returned to the Puyuma people because they have been living and hunting there, according to a document from the Taiwan Provincial Consultative Council.

The tribe's representatives asked the local government to handle the issue cautiously by holding more negotiations with them and taking into account both economic development and the Puyumas historical connection with the land.
Taitung's forests are "twice promised land", a prize for the most politically savvy and well-connected. Now with big developers muscling in to pick up chunks for their Chinese tourist business, Taitung is going to take another hit. Of course the piece ends on a note of sympathy for... the poor abused Han.
All of which has left the farmers in an uneasy limbo. "farmers" they don't mean aborigines.

Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

It is an extension of the colonial practices from the Qing and Japanese periods. This is a great example of why it is in error to discuss Taiwan in terms of its post-coloniality.

les said...

National Park, forest reserve, park etc. is all another way of saying 'this is land we will concrete over when the price is right but for now it can remain jungle'.

Jerome Besson said...

@Anon. The Manchu tried stemming the tide of Han encroachment on the lands under their jurisdiction. But it ended in failure. And I am not talking about just Taiwan. Ask why Manchuria and Inner Mongolia are deemed Chinese territories. Their toughness, the way they creep on the land and the natives and wind up blocking the sun from the latter. . . the Han, like the kudzu of our species. Invasive. Before WWII, a Japanese China hand observed three form of expansionism in East Asia. 1) Land-grabbing, that would be the Russian way; 2) Crowding out of the locals, that's the Chinese way; 3) Investing in local resources, the American way. That is the root cause of Chinese expansionism.

les said...

BTW, I hear a lot of talk about how the Chinese are directly buying up real estate en mass in Hualien and Taidong. Yes it's illegal, but the govt. is turning a blind eye since it plays into their annexation strategy so well.

Jerome Besson said...

Same complaint arising from Japan. Too many Chinese on Okinawa and Hokkaido. Not mentioning Ikebukuro in Tokyo, now already a no-go area for Japanese police forces.