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Ecological Rice Fair: Protecting farmland ecosystem, increasing farmers’ incomes

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201609/23
Taiwan is the land of rice. In addition to feeding the people and consolidating the foundation of the country, the lush green rice shoots, the golden ears of rice and the birds, insects and frogs calling the paddy fields are the countryside memories of many people, as well as the farmland ecosystem on which many creatures rely. To promote eco-friendly farming, the Forestry Bureau, COA invited 14 rice farmers who use friendly farming methods and who have obtained the Green Conservation Mark, National Taiwan Museum and Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation to attend the Chirps, Quacks and Aromatic Rice: Ecological Rice Fair scheduled to be held at the Nanmen branch of National Taiwan Museum on September 24-25 to show people how eating ecological rice is not only good for their health, it also provides a pure living environment for wild animals.

Change in attitude of farmers: From being respectful to nature, bearing high risks to caring about the ecological environment
Addressing attendees, COA Deputy Minister Weng Chang-liang said: “I am moved that a small group of people have taken this road. I am from the countryside and my deepest impression of farming is respect for nature. My father would go to the local Mazu temple to pray for protection for his crops. In those days, farming was high risk and people depended on nature for food to eat. Sometimes we would be woken up at midnight to pray to the Ruler of Heaven. The table would be stacked with sacrificial offerings and we would get down on our knees and pray. Only when I grew up did I realize the fear of and respect for nature of farmers result from the hardship they faced. Conventional farming methods rely on pesticides and fertilizers. Farming is hard enough without using ecological farming practices. However, I am very pleased that the farmers here today have shown people that they can have confidence in this type of farming. At present, Taiwan has 6,000 hectares of land growing organic rice; the COA Minister hopes this can be increased to 15,000 hectares next year. We hope society supports ecological rice so that these eco-friendly farmers can bravely carry on.

Farmland ecosystem is closely connected to people's lives
Taiwan is a small yet densely populated place. Hence, wildlife habitats often overlap with places a high level of human activity, and any development or production has a big impact on the surrounding ecosystem. People have always paid attention to protected areas and the conservation of marine or protected species, but they are hardly aware that farmland is the second largest ecosystem in Taiwan and has the closest connection to human activity. According to Forest Bureau Director General Lin Hwa-ching, “Every species in Taiwan is important. We talk about being ecological friendly as if is just for the sake of wild animals. However, the survival of wild animals is a safety indicator because wildlife verify the safety of the environment.” Therefore, environmental protection does not just benefit wild animals but also protects people’s health, livelihood and life. This is the spirit of the Satoyama Initiative and this has been the objective of the Forestry Bureau’s efforts in recent years, such as promoting low elevation ecological conservation, using the Green Conservation Mark, and giving farmers eco-friendly guidance to make farming environmentally friendly.

Encouraging farmers to use eco-friendly farming practices
Taiwan's agricultural growing and improvement technology leads the world, however, as society industrialized and people got used to eating bread and noodles, rice became one of just many food choices to fill their bellies. With limited farmland area and highly intensive use, production depended too heavily on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, causing water pollution and soil hardening and acidification in fields and surrounding areas, not only threatening farmers’ health and the safety of consumers, but also damaging the natural environment and ecosystem, even resulting in the reduction in the number of many precious wild plants and animals. In 2009 a large number of Pheasant-tailed Jacana died in Guantian, Tainan when they were poisoned after eating rice husks contaminated with pesticides, attracting much attention. As the competent authority for conservation, with the precondition of allowing farmers’ incomes to rise, the Forestry Bureau has for a number of years promoted the Green Conservation Mark and Green Conservation Farm Products with Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation, giving guidance to farmers to show them how to farm without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. When consumers buy green conservation products, the vision of coexistence of farming and environmental sustainability shall be achieved. At present, 234 Green Conservation Marks have been awarded, covering an area of 307 hectares, with 40 species protected.

Farmers in harmony with nature
In recent years, some farmers have come to realize the effect on their own health and on nature of bad farming practices and have abandoned conventional practices and restored the original farmland ecosystem. Rice grown by 14 farmers who have received the Green Conservation Mark will be on display and available for purchase at the Ecological Rice Fair at National Taiwan Museum on September 24-25, with the farmers sharing their mental journey through which they changed to growing rice in an environmentally friendly way.
Hehe rice is grown in Gongliao in New Taipei City. The Forestry Bureau and the Environmental Ethics Foundation of Taiwan cooperated with local farmers and residents in promoting the restart of rice growing in terrace paddy fields using eco-friendly methods. To date, local wetland-type farmland-habitat totals 6 hectares that is the home to 511 species of fish, shrimp, snail, crab and water insects, including Ceriagrion melanurum that is widely believed to have only a small population and have limited distribution, as well as water and land plants. As the diverse value of terrace paddy fields has become widely known, driven by the society’s overall atmosphere and with encouragement and investment from other competent authorities, the area of rice paddies in the Fangjiao River and Yuanwangkang River area has increased in the last five years.

Lingxiang rice is grown in Guantian, Tainan City. After the Pheasant-tailed Jacana deaths, the Forestry Bureau and Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation set about promoting environment-friendly farming practices in the area. As well as water chestnut fields, contract production by local rice farmers for Earth Friend Social Enterprise Co, allowed farmers to understand how to use eco-friendly growing practices. Not only was the environment improved, Pheasant-tailed Jacana and Two-striped Grass Frog have returned. The price the farmers get for their rice is better than for rice they used to grow using conventional methods. The farmers are happy and the animals live in peace. At present, almost 20 hectares of land is used for green conservation farming. 

Hara rice is named after the Amis word for the protected species of Taitung River Loach. Hara rice is not only organic; it is pure rice grown using eco-friendly methods in restored wetland ecosystem. The villagers who lived amidst the cultural landscape of Cihalaay village, below the historic terrace fields of the Coastal Mountain Range and 100-year-old irrigation channels, have carved out the tracks of interaction between man and nature and produce the food the villagers need to live, echoing the spirit of the Satoyama Initiative.     

This fair introduced people to agricultural products that combine agricultural production, ecological environment and local culture. From 10am to 4pm, September 24 -25 at the Nanmen branch of National Taiwan Museum (No. 1, Sec. 1, Nanchang Road, Taipei City), other than the stories of the ecological rice brands on display, rice food evaluation, small farmer lectures, a rice food banquet, pop rice experience and other activities will take place. For event information, see: http://event.culture.tw/NTM/portal/Registration/C0103MAction?actId=60076
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