Thursday, July 07, 2011

Expropriating here with the left hand, leasing there with the right

Farmers protested this week that the government has been ruthlessly carrying out land expropriations....
“The past decade has seen tens of thousands of good farms taken over [for development projects], and farmlands continue to disappear,” alliance president Liu Ching-chang (劉慶昌) told a news conference in Taipei. “I wonder if our children and grandchildren would simply stop eating rice.”

Liu is a farmer from Erchongpu (二重埔) in Jhudong Township (竹東), Hsinchu County, whose farmland is also facing expropriation as the government moves to expand Hsinchu Science Park.

Liu said that government officials — including President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) —had promised farmers last year to revise the Land Expropriation Act (土地徵收條例), but “expropriation has continued everywhere.”

“If the government is sincere about its promise, it should halt all ongoing expropriations until the law is amended,” Liu said.
With a big harvest this year that was rapidly collected, grain prices plummeted, and government price supports appear to have benefited grain merchants rather than farmers, according to the farmers.

The irony of these land grabs is that even as Taiwan plows under good land for factories, it is mulling joining the new trend of leasing land in the developing world to secure its food supply. Expropriate land here in Taiwan while leasing it overseas! Taiwan is heavily dependent on food imports and food security is a key if underappreciated issue here. The potentially lucrative market for biofuels is also driving land acquisition by Taiwan investors overseas. Taiwan also has much land that lies fallow, even as it develops slopeland, due its complicated and contradictory policies. I noted in a post earlier this year:
In Taiwan the government runs a set-aside program for farmland under which large quantities of farmland lie fallow. In some years the amount set aside exceeds the amount planted in rice (!). This program has come under much criticism, since sometimes farmland becomes unusable after being set aside and land lying uncared for invites pests that affect nearby farms. This results in abandoned land, 50,000 hectares by one 2004 estimate. When land leaves the market, it drives up the price of remaining land, pushing up rents -- and many farmers are renters, not owners. Further, for many observers it makes little sense to set aside good farmland in the lowlands while permitting farming on slopes. The set aside program is also driven by shortages of water, diverted for industrial and residential needs. Everything is exacerbated by the lack of government oversight and monitoring, a persistent problem in all areas of government policy in Taiwan.
It seems that Taiwan could really do itself a favor by implementing a well thought out and comprehensive land regime. But then big developers couldn't make money getting free land from farmers and the state for private exploitation......
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! Delenda est, baby.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The general problem is fairly complexed, we have competiting needs here, more farmland going follow in theory means less output = higher prices.

Agriculture export is always problematic, most countries have alot of protection barriers setup and in the case of rice Taiwan's prices are neither low enough nor numerous enough to seriously change the market.

Due to traditional developments, most Taiwanese farmers are small land owners who only operates on their own family's manpower (and these days, more like just 1 old couple ). so it really can't compete in a scale context like the US. of course this had political / social backgrounds and it certainly beats the older days of when lands where mostly owned by a small number of landlords...

Farmers generally make very little, even when prices are good the rice farmers especially make little (usually they'd be lucky to make about as much as a kid working in 7-11 or Mcdonald if you divide it into monthly wages. most make under 20k per month in this calculation.) Fruit and other farmers might make more but they're also much more at risk to weather and natural disastors.

Taiwan actually do produce more rice then they consume on a yearly basis even with all the follow grounds, the question would be what would we realistically do with so much additional rice? and since most farmers are small land owners a higher overall production actually HURT them more than it helps anyway.

Alternative farming towards other products are of course a good idea, but the basic problem of Taiwan still remains, it's cost of living is at least above average, and it's land distribution is generally very well spread, thus economic of scale will almost never be too good.

Another issue, Rice paddies are not easily interchangable into other forms of farmland, they require a lot of irrigational setup many happened over many decades / generations of work, you can not just assume that you can easily switch it back and forth between Rice crop and other stuff.

In short, your idea is fine and dandy in theory, but in practice Taiwan's agriculture have many tough natural limitations that are difficult to address, no one have seriously been able to offer a feasable long term solution from either side. At this point, you either need to try and expand the average land hold per farmer (highly HIGHLY unlikely due to political and social reasons) or you need to have some magical crops that can make a ton more from the same land, or you need to drop everyone's standard of living to the point where Taiwan's competitive with poorer countries (obviously not a good choice either.)