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Southern Taiwan rice fields go fallow due to lack of rain

Slow start to year for farmers with no choice but to leave fields fallow

Many rice fields go fallow in Chiayi-Tainan area due to lack of rain. (Pexels, Ruth Bolano photo)  

Many rice fields go fallow in Chiayi-Tainan area due to lack of rain. (Pexels, Ruth Bolano photo)  

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Chiayi-Tainan Plain, one of Taiwan’s most important areas for rice cultivation, will mostly go unplanted this spring due to a lack of rainfall and low reservoir levels.

According to the Council of Agriculture (COA), some 19,000 hectares in this area will be left fallow. The decision was made by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) on Dec. 9, 2022, when it announced a suspension of water irrigation rights for the first rice planting in the Chiayi-Tainan Plain.

Rainfall in the second half of 2022 in the Chiayi-Tainan Plain area was only 40% of that compared to previous years. Furthermore, the main supplier of water to the area, the Tsengwen Reservoir, currently stands at 23.45% capacity, according to the Water Resources Agency.

Farmers relying upon their own wells can continue to plant, but higher costs make such an undertaking prohibitive and only viable for organic and specialized rice planting.

At a recent coordination meeting between government officials and farmers, most farmers agreed to let their fields remain fallow in exchange for government subsidies. Those planting high-quality rice qualify for a maximum subsidy of NT$96,000 (US$3,200) per hectare, while the maximum assistance for mechanized farming is NT$200,000 (US$6,600), per a News and Market report.

Farmers at the meeting noted the talks were not bilateral, as it was only an instrument of the government to express unilateral policy. They also felt little recourse but to accept the fact that industrial water use took precedence over agricultural water use, with no discussion of increased water consumption by the Southern Taiwan Science Park.

Area farmers and nurseries are once again feeling helpless when it comes to the suspension of irrigation. The Tainan area has experienced water shortages and cut-off irrigation beginning in 2021 with crop rotation encouraged in 2022, and once again no water at the start of 2023. Three consecutive years of uncertain water supply has angered farmers who note the "Water Act" stipulates that agricultural water supply cannot be sacrificed for industrial water supply.

Furthermore, many young farmers who have been encouraged to return to their hometowns to take over family farms and ensure the nation’s food supply now feel cheated by an irrigation policy which is depriving them of the right to work, according to News and Market. They note that farming is not just relying on government subsidies.