A les­son in pre­vent­ing farm­land di­ver­sion and un­lock­ing po­ten­tial for Tai­wan’s agri­cul­ture

By in­sist­ing on the prin­ci­ple of us­ing agri­cul­tural land solely for agri­cul­ture, Tai­wan could crack down on the ram­pant di­ver­sion of farm­land for other pur­poses and pre­vent the po­ten­tial de­struc­tion of our en­vi­ron­ment.


One spring three years ago, young farmer Lai Yung-hua leased a 7,500 square-me­ter piece of farm­land in Nanzhuang Dananpu in Miaoli County to plant or­ganic rice.

Lai re­calls that one ping (about 3.3 square me­ters) of farm­land cost around NT$6,000 back then. Within just three years, that price has risen to NT$8,000. “If you want to buy farm­land with ac­cess to elec­tric­ity and wa­ter and near a high­way ramp, one jia (al­most one hectare) will cost at least NT$30 mil­lion,” Lai says.

In the past, some­what cheaper farm­land in more re­mote, hilly ter­rain was turned into ter­raced fields for tea plan­ta­tions or fruit or­chards. Many of these plots have mean­while been sold to city peo­ple who “plant” them­selves in va­ca­tion “farm cot­tages” there.

In the area be­hind Wenwu Tem­ple, where Lai lives, lies Mt. Dapeng, which fea­tures an old hik­ing trail. “There are more than 200 farm­houses up on the hill and a large num­ber of Euro­pean-style cot­tages,” says Lai.

“Re­tired ur­ban­ites har­bor this im­age about farm­ing vil­lages — they are iso­lated from so­ci­ety, dreamy re­treats that are bet­ter the far­ther away they are from the crowds.”

Most of these week­end farm­ers do not farm for a liveli­hood but as a leisure pas­time, and if they do not de­pend on farm­ing for their liv­ing, they could end up un­der­min­ing the vil­lages’ role as cen­ters of agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion and farm­ing life as well as guardians of ru­ral ecosys­tems.


Ger­many once faced a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, but the as­pir­ing hobby farm­ers quickly hit a wall with their pro­ject.

Wu Ching- yi, a post- doc at Hualien’s Na­tional Dong Hwa Univer­sity, notes that in the 1960s, a group of Ger­man doc­tors, lawyers, pro­fes­sors and other mid­dle class pro­fes­sion­als were plan­ning to buy more than 20 hectares of farm­land in south­ern Ger­many to build a re­tire­ment com­mu­nity. How­ever, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­jected their plan. The two sides met in court, and the case went all the way to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, which ruled that “Given that land is not an or­di­nary good, land trans­ac­tions must be in the public in­ter­est.” As a re­sult, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to sell the land to non-farm­ers was val­i­dated by the court.

Although Ger­many is an in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tion, in Bavaria, Ger­many’s south­ern­most and largest fed­eral state, farm­land has al­ways re­mained at around 50 per­cent of the state’s to­tal area. The av­er­age area that each farm house­hold cul­ti­vates has grown from nine hectares in the 1960s to 59 hectares to­day. In con­trast, the size of Tai­wanese farms dropped 20 per­cent from 0.91 hectares to 0.73 hectares dur­ing the same pe­riod.

Wu ac­knowl­edges that with in­creas­ing in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, the farm­ing pop­u­la­tion is bound to de­cline. “The key point is whether this farm­land con­tin­ues to re­main in the hands of farm­ing peo­ple,” says Wu. Be­cause once farm­land has been di­verted for other nona­gri­cul­tural uses, “it won’t come back.”

Wu, who has also stud­ied in Mu­nich, notes that Ger­many passed clear reg­u­la­tions af­ter the First World War on the trans­fer of farm­land out of con­cern for na­tional food safety. Since then, ev­ery sin­gle trans­ac­tion of farm­land has to be re­viewed by the re­spec­tive lo­cal gov­ern­ment. In Tai­wan, how­ever, the re­vi­sion of the Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Act 15 years ago lifted the farm­land­for-farm­ers-only re­stric­tion so that non-farm house­holds could also buy farm­land.

In Ger­many, a per­son who wants to buy agri­cul­tural land must have a reg­is­tered farm or pro­vide records for an agri­cul­tural en­ter­prise. Fur­ther­more, the sale can only go ahead if an agri­cul­tural man­age­ment plan has been sub­mit­ted to author­i­ties. If these con­di­tions are not met, the gov­ern­ment has the right to no­tify the lo­cal cham­ber of agri­cul­ture (sim­i­lar to Tai­wan’s farm as­so­ci­a­tions) to eval­u­ate and pos­si­bly block the trans­ac­tion. If a prospec­tive buyer is not a farmer, the farm­land in ques­tion must be first of­fered to in­ter­ested farm­ers for pur­chase. In or­der to qual­ify as a farmer, the farm or agri­cul­tural en­ter­prise must be pro­duc­tive enough to be eco­nom­i­cally vi­able, which of­ten ef­fec­tively ex­cludes hobby farm­ers.

Ger­many tightly con­trols the farm­land- for- farm­ers- only prin­ci­ple and also strictly pro­hibits the ex­pan­sion of ex­ist­ing ru­ral res­i­dences. Only when the off­spring of a farmer also makes a liv­ing from farm­ing and the ex­ist­ing farm­house is deemed too small for the ex­tended fam­ily can an ad­di­tional 100 square me­ters of liv­ing space be built. How­ever, in Tai­wan, where hardly any young peo­ple take over the fam­ily farm, three­story town­houses can be erected on farm­land.


Ja­pan also in­sists on the farm- land-for-farm­ers-only prin­ci­ple.

Lin Wan-ken, honorary chair­man of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Real Es­tate At­tor­neys, Tai­wan R.O.C., notes that Ja­pan’s Agri­cul­tural Land Act of 1952 stip­u­lates that pri­vate farm­land trans­ac­tions must be re­viewed by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s Agri­cul­tural Com­mit­tee. Fur­ther­more, the buyer must pro­vide a busi­ness plan for an agri­cul­tural en­ter­prise.

Should the buyer di­vert farm­land for other pur­poses such as in­dus­trial use, turn it into build­ing land or build a house for him­self on the land so that its agri­cul­tural use can­not be main­tained, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment can de­clare the sales con­tract null-and-void. The buyer can be sen­tenced to a prison term of up to three years and be slapped with a fine of up to 3 mil­lion yen.

Lin points out that Ja­pan has lost one fourth of its farm­land acreage over the past two decades. Since the gov­ern­ment was wor­ried that the coun­try’s food self-suf­fi­ciency rate would slip, a se­ries of re­form mea­sures was in­tro­duced in 2009 to ac­ti­vate fal­low farm­land. Tokyo en­cour­aged the es­tab­lish­ment of land trusts that lease farm­land to in­cor­po­rated agri­cul­tural pro­duc­ers at a low price. As a re­sult, the price for farm­land is not de­cided by the mar­ket alone.

More­over, in a bid to re­vi­tal­ize de­serted ru­ral vil­lages, the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment is en­cour­ag­ing city dwellers to buy a sec­ond home in the coun­try­side or to re­set­tle there to run a farm. How­ever, Ja­pan strictly re­stricts peo­ple to buy­ing ex­ist­ing va­cant houses as their sec­ond home or ru­ral refuge. While new homes have mush­roomed in Tai­wan’s coun­try­side, Ja­pan does not al­low the con­struc­tion of new farm­houses by city dwellers.

“In Tai­wan, those who re­ally want to live as farm­ers find that farm­land is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly scarce, and that even if they want to buy farm­land, they can’t af­ford it,” says Lin.

Tai­wan should learn from Ger­many and Ja­pan, and con­trol who qual­i­fies for the pur­chase of farm­land as well as how the land is used, to en­sure that farm­land is used solely for agri­cul­tural pur­poses. Oth­er­wise, week­end farm­ers and hill­side va­ca­tion re­sorts will be the only defin­ing fea­tures of Tai­wan’s ru­ral vil­lages in the fu­ture. Trans­lated from the Chi­nese by Su­sanne Ganz Ad­di­tional read­ing se­lec­tions can be found at http://english.cw.com.tw


(Left) The aerial view taken on May 8 shows a rape­seed field stand­ing in full bloom near Eben­hausen, Ger­many. Right) A sea­sonal worker holds freshly cropped as­para­gus on a field near Schoe­nach, Ger­many, on April 20.

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