Flying Bananas and a European Styled Mansion: the Agricultural Debate in Taiwan 2012

Although the paradox of today’s world is that hunger still persists despite the production of more than enough food to feed the entire human population, agriculture generally does not make news headlines in Taiwan. Until now.

Alongside discussions on Cross Strait relations, the issue of agriculture has surprisingly lept to the forefront in many of the recent verbal tussles between the DPP and the KMT. Amidst the ferocity of inter-party debates inTaiwanthat usually confounds the general audience instead of clarifying the issue at hand, two separate issues, one real and one false, should be noted in terms of the agricultural debate in Taiwan.

The “real” issue is that Taiwan’s agricultural sector is in crisis. While the move from an agricultural based economy to a service and knowledge based economy and the growth in popular education have drawn more young people in Taiwan away from villages and into cities, leaving behind an aging population to till the land, the price of agricultural goods in Taiwan has remained extremely low. A recent incident captures the situation: while making a general inquiry on the low price of goods against the minister of agriculture Chen Wu-xiong in the Legislative Yuan, DPP legislator Chen Ming-wen angrily threw a bunch of bananas on the floor, venting his frustration on the incumbent minister’s seeming indifference towards the meager price of origin of bananas at 1NT/Kg

Before the “slamming” of bananas in the parliament, the DPP put out a campaign video exploiting the image of aged farmers complaining about their worn-out kneecaps and how hard work cannot keep up with the rising cost of living.

Regardless of whether the emphasis on farmers is outright political manipulation by the DPP, heralding the issue has recently generated heated inter-party debate on “agricultural subsidy for old farmers” (laonong jintie).

In response to the DPP’s attack on the agricultural issue, the ruling KMT government has fought back with the “fake” issue of “farm manor” (nongshe). Vigorous DPP critic and KMT legislator Qiu Yi fired a series of attacks on the DPP vice presidential candidate Su Jia-quan on the issue of property misuse. Su, former mayor of Ping-tung county and former minister of agriculture in the previous DPP government, is uncovered by Qiu to have constructed a European styled mansion on property registered for farm use. Revelation of the estate plays directly against the clean and sympathizing image that the DPP hopes to project to farmers.

Attention on the hard issue ofTaiwan’s agricultural development seems to have been redirected since the revelation on Su. There are several implications. Firstly, while the general audience may be attracted to the cross-fire on the farm manor issue, which may become a fleeting detail once the presidential election concludes, the critical issue of agriculture is snubbed to the detriment of everyone on the island. Although great mansions and the throwing of bananas are sure to gain more viewers than difficult debates on real issues, it may be advisable for the observer to think again on future implications, especially when the issue at hand is “food.” On the other hand, with most of Taiwan’s agriculture based in the central and southern part of the island, it remains to be seen how the KMT responds to the agricultural issue to attract voters in these regions. For the DPP, it may need to turn its attention towards the real question at hand and dilute mass attention on individual misdeeds if it seeks to win.

Tony Tai-Ting Liu is a doctoral student at the Graduate Institute of International Politics, National Chung Hsing University,Taiwan. He can be reached at stanggoftibia1984@yahoo.com.tw

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