SE in Taiwan
Let the Ecosystem Rejuvenate and Keep it Fertile
“When the association first began doing organic farming, people laughed at us and called us fool, saying it would never work, but we persevered. It has been a tough journey to try and subvert conventions, but we did it. We changed people's thoughts, and many people are joining up!” Such were the wistful words of Li Ching-Chang, Chairperson of the Miaoli County Haoyan Mountain Yuenli Alluvial Fan Plain Ecology Humanities Development Association, as he recalled the association’s dedication towards organic farming over the years.
Royally Delicious Rice Grown from Fertile Soil
Haoyan Mountain is the southern side of Miaoli Hills. Its main peak is 602 meters above sea level, separating Yuenli Village and Sanyi Township. It was designated as Haoyan Mountain Nature Reserve by the government in 1986. The Haoyan Mountain community of Miaoli County is located in the northeast corner of Yuenli Village, bordered by the Haoyan Mountain ridge, Da’an River, and the Miaoli No.131 Highway that runs along the river.
The community rests at the apex of Da’an River’s alluvial fan, connected with Dajia Village and Sanyi Township of Taichung County. It started out as territory of the pingpu tribes of Taiwan’s indigenous people, but the community now consists mostly of descendants of Hakka people from Sanyi, Tongluo, and Houli that crossed mountains and rivers to develop the land early on. The community’s population is around 5,000. Here, vast paddy fields, steep slopes, and winding waterways gather in one place, which is ideal for the development of refined agriculture as well we transition to agritourism.
During the era of Japanese rule, the area was a sparsely populated forestation land. Before 1941, the land would flood in rainy seasons due to the river’s rising water levels. In dry seasons the riverbed would completely dry up, with only scattered rocks in this sight, making farming very difficult. Later on, farmers were encouraged to cultivate the land. Their hard work yielded fertile farmlands.
In the past, cultivating the vast alluvial land required the labor force. People laid push car railways along the riverbed; leveled the land and moved rocks on the riverbed according to their size; built a dike to prevent the river from flooding; built cobblestone ridges; and dug pits to bury cobblestones too large to move into the topsoil. They moved soil from Shangankeng to cover the leveled farmland, using alluvial soil from floods to increase the thickness and fertility of the land and built waterways to irrigate the land with water from Da’an River. In the 1950s, the land transformed from a desolate alluvial land to vast fertile farmland.
Rediscover Clean Land to Produce Healthy Food
Founded in 2001, the association started out in the interest of comprehensive community development. The association’s primary missions are to maintain the ecological landscape of the Haoyan Mountain alluvial plains, maintain and reconstruct the area’s historic and cultural characteristics, protect traditional stonework techniques, revitalize the landscape of paddy fields, and promote organic farming and ecological/educational agritourism farms.
According to the association’s Chairperson Li Ching-Chang, the community is located in the alluvial plains between Haoyan Mountain and Da’an River, right in the watershed of north and south farming settlements. The high humidity is perfect for growing rice. During the era of Japanese rule, the rice grown in the area was sent to Japan as offering to the emperor. The soil in the area is mostly loam soil which is very fertile, and gives way to waterways that irrigate 500 to 600 hectares of farmland.
The association promotes natural farming, hoping to create a living space with zero pollution. The association is not-for-profit, says Li Ching-Chang. It hopes to improve the community by helping and receiving help from the community and farmers.
The association even established the Duck Field Rice farm that promotes organic farming and ecological and environmental education, helping members that join to produce duck farmed rice and establish a brand. The 500 rice paddy ducks that the farm raises every year also add great value. The farm provides ecological tours and meals and sells products grown in natural farms.
Determined to Coexist
The fertile soils of Haoyan Mountain’s alluvial plains required no pesticides to grow quality crops in the past, however, the so-called modern farming began to play a crucial role in the generation of Li Ching-Chang’s father, and at least 90% of the farmers began to implement conventional farming, using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Li Ching-Chang recalled that when he was young, all the nearby farms implemented conventional farming. His uncle was even a pesticide distributor, and his father helped spray the chemicals.
“These farmers in my uncle’s generation were heavily influenced by pesticide marketing. They thought it was impossible to reject pesticides. Nevertheless, as they grew old, they found that the long periods of time they spent exposed to these chemicals caused illness in their bodies, including cancer.” Li Ching-Chang said that when they began to promote organic farming, people laughed at them and called them fool. Nobody thought it was possible, but he found ways to convince them to change the way they do, gradually restoring the land, and getting people to realize that change is possible.
Over the past two decades, he witnessed changes in his father’s generation, with many senior farmers ceasing to use pesticides. It takes a long time for the land to recover from pollution. It takes at least one to three years for the land to reach conditions suitable for organic farming, and certification is necessary. Once you commit to this, you have to understand that all this time and effort are an essential part of the process.
The farms implementing organic farming in Yuenli might not account for a large area, but more and more farmers are joining in. There are even young people returning home to take part in organic farming individually. The association hopes to inspire even more people to do the same.
Natural farming is not a new way of farming. Before the advent of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, farmers learned to farm by observing the cycle of nature for thousands of years. A farm could be passed down from generation to generation for centuries and still be able to yield crops. The most important part of natural farming is environmental protection and ecological maintenance to keep the soil active. Take good care of nature, and nature will repay you with clean air, water, soil, and organic food.
Duck rice farming has been around since the time of Li Ching-Chang’s grandmother. Farmers raise ducks on the farm to eat weed and pests and avoid all use of herbicides and pesticides. The ducks’ feces serve as natural organic fertilizer, replenishing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other microelements necessary for rice farming.
As the ducks swim to and fro in the rice paddies, their feet stir the dirt and increase the amount of oxygen in the mud. The rice then absorbs abundant oxygen and nutrients by its roots, thus obtaining better texture and flavor. Duck rice farming keeps the rice paddies free from chemical fertilizers and pesticides and allows the environment to recuperate and reach a balance, achieving the ideal eco-farm.
In recent years, duck rice farming is also necessary to resolve the issue of apple snails, said Li Ching-Chang. In the 1970s, people introduced apple snails from Latin America as food but soon found it with unpleasant taste and proneness to parasites. The snails were dumped into the waterways and began to breed without restraint. Their adaptability and destructiveness make them horrible destroyers of the ecosystem. People generally used snail killers in the past. Now, more people are using the method of natural enemies, and raise ducks to eat the snails, thereby reaching a state of symbiosis that allows the rice to grow.
Extend Cooperation with the Workforce Development Agency to Create Mutual Benefits
The association has been working with the Workforce Development Agency’s (WDA) Multiple Employment Promoting Project (MEPP) for a long time. In recent years it has focused on executing the Empowering Employment Program (EEP), providing disadvantaged and elderly people in the community with jobs such as maintaining ecological education parks, helping construct park ecosystems, and developing products. These job opportunities can help them learn different skills.
In recent years, some of the association’s former recruits have returned to the workforce, while others have started their own business. The association needs workforce and resources, said Li Ching-Chang, and their collaboration with the WDA in recent years has alleviated their staffing needs, providing job opportunities for the community’s middle-aged and elderly residents, and creating mutual benefits for the community and the association.
In the future, the association hopes to extend its partnership with the WDA, building the community into an international ecological village that can provide long-term health care for elderly visitors. It also has goals of becoming a social enterprise that can independently generate revenue and run a sustainable, self-supporting eco-community; give a portion back to the community each year; help out where needed; and provide free rice to disadvantaged groups.
Over the past decade, the association has built an environment of ecological diversity and served as a place for ecology education activities for students from elementary school to high school. These are all ways the association is giving back to the community through the progress they have made in collaboration with the WDA.
With the approval of local residents and subsidies from the government, the association’s progress has been praised unanimously. There still remains work to be done, but with their ideals of promoting harmonious co-existence with nature, the environment, and the ecosystem, they believe that they are on the right path and that all their efforts will be worth it.
▲The unique scenery of a duck rice farm. Members of this snail killer team roam around the rice field, forming a synchronized symphony of rice duck farming.
▲Over the years, the duck rice farm has striven to create a productive environment with ecological diversity, bringing people closer to the land.
▲The association creates an environment of ecological diversity and promotes leisure farming experiences.
Case Story - Empowering Employment Program
Li Ching-Chang - Miaoli County Haoyan Mountain Yuenli Alluvial Fan Plain Ecology Humanities Development Association
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Please attribute this article to “Workforce Development Agency, Ministry Of Labor.”