Cross-Straits farming cooperation yields high

Updated: 2014-02-26 14:24


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TAIPEI - In Luoshan Village in eastern Taiwan, where mainland tourists and investors are rarely seen, green rice paddies offer a link between local farmers and the rest of China.

The village in Hualien County is known for its unspoilt natural environment. Over the years, the organic rice produced here has earned a reputation in the local market, and now the villagers are setting their sights across the Taiwan Straits.

When a group of officials from Southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region visited on Sunday, villagers covered their tables in sticky rice cakes, turnip buns and other snacks to impress the guests.

"Our rice has the best quality in Taiwan, completely free of pollution," rice grower Hsieh Kai-ren told the officials, who were in the village to research the rice farms.

Xie has been sent to Guangxi several times to share his experience, part of the local government's efforts to promote the rice in the mainland, where the rise of the middle class has unlocked market potential for pollution-free organic food.

"Our rice products have been sold in Shanghai and fetched pretty good prices," said Chou Chongfu, another farmer. "Apart from rice, we also have organic grapefruit, corn and coffee beans."

The superb quality and limited supply of organic foods have ensured their high prices, but enterprising local officials now wish to create a bigger industry by joining hands with the mainland.

The local rice brand hit the the mainland market starting in 2012, when a cross-Straitss quarantine procedure was eased for rice, but exports were curbed by the limited supply, said Zhang Zhichao, head of Hualien's agricultural authority.

"Our production scale is too small to supply to other markets because we have very limited land and manpower," Zhang said.

The supply problem facing the Hualien rice farmers is typical for Taiwan's small-scale agriculture, which boasts high output via arduous labor and use of advanced farming technologies. The scarce land on the mountainous island, however, has ruled out possibilities of large-scale production.

Taiwanese officials like Zhang now pin their hopes on cross-Straits cooperation, with discussions on rice production technology already ongoing with Guangxi, a largely rural region that has become Taiwan's major agricultural partner in recent years.

"The strength of Guangxi agriculture lies in its size -- immense territory, large market and high output, while agriculture in Hualien strikes me as being ecological and high-quality," said Xie Zeyu, head of the agricultural department of Guangxi.

Xie hailed the collaboration as being supplementary and reciprocal, as the plant varieties, technology and farming machinery imported from Taiwan have also helped upgrade the agricultural industry of Guangxi.

"For instance, Guangxi's sugarcane farms cover over 1 million hectares but are very low-yielding. We've planned to replace some sections of the farms, and Taiwanese mango, dragon fruit and wax apple are potential substitutes," Xie said.

Guangxi and Taiwan have cooperated on breeding and cultivation technologies of more than 300 species, including fruits, vegetables and flowers. Nearly 100 Taiwanese species have been successfully introduced to Guangxi, according to Xie. WINNING HEARTS

Officials said cross-Straits cooperation on agriculture had forged ahead rapidly in recent years, allowing Taiwanese farmers to reap benefits by selling locally refined species and contracting land on the mainland for large-scale production.

The mainland has surpassed Japan as the biggest client for Taiwan's agricultural products. The expanded sales in the mainland have also helped protect Taiwanese farmers from calamitous price plunges in times of surplus supplies.

But the most delightful change may be in the mentality: having tasted the benefits, many Taiwanese farmers have embraced peace and interaction in cross-Straits relations.

"Today, many fine breeds from the mainland still cannot enter Taiwan or face other restrictions," said Zhang Zhichao. "We hope cross-Straits relations will continue to improve so these problems will be solved for the well-being of farmers."

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