In Taiwan, about 24% of the land is under cultivation, and about 8% of the labor force is employed in agriculture. Generally speaking, Taiwan's agriculture is characterized by high yields, irrigation, terracing, multiple cropping, and extensive use of fertilizers. Rice is its principal food crop, others include sweet potatoes, bananas, peanuts, soybeans, wheat, pineapples, crude tea, and asparagus… etc. However, there is an oversupply of rice and a request for little space and small investment, farmers are encouraged to grow other more profitable crops such as mushrooms or some hydroponic crops. Also, to adapt to their living environment, Taiwanese aborigines, both ancient and modern, have developed their own farming methods. All of these make up the featured farming in Taiwan.
Farming of Ancient Taiwanese Aborigines
Thousands of years ago, aborigines were Taiwan's only inhabitants. They are believed to have come from the Malay archipelago in different waves about 6,000 years ago at the earliest and less than 1,000 years ago at the latest. They lived largely isolated in the mountains and were farmers and fishermen. They divided, for convenience, into Pingpu (planins) people and Kaoshan (mountains) people when major Han Chinese immigration began in the 1600s. From the earliest records from the Dutch arrival in 1624, modern anthropologists witnessed their agricultural activities.
The Pingpu, who formerly resided in the western and northern plains region, were skilled in agriculture and large-scale hunting. They mainly lived in stationary village sites surrounded by defensive walls of bamboo. It is thought that managed fallows of rice and wild harvesting of herds of spotted deer and muntjac were crucial to support the Pingpu populations. Women were in charge of the hard work of farming at home while men went out hunting. What's interesting is that men and women worked together to harvest rice with their bare hands instead of sickles, even though chipped-pebble tools dating from perhaps as early as 15,000 years ago suggest that the initial human inhabitants of Taiwan were Paleolithic cultures of the Pleistocene era.
Little was known about Taiwan's Gaoshan tribes who lived in mountains and the eastern part of Taiwan until European and American explorers and missionaries began seeking out them in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Unlike the plains aborigines, agriculture was tough business to the Gaoshans, because they lived in highlands covered with subtropical forests which did not have rich soil, and that made it harder for them to grow food there. Anyway, to adapt to their poor living conditions, Gaoshan farmers practiced a method called slash and burn before they began planting crops. They cut down the trees, burned the trees, and then grew crops in the soil with ashes from the fires. The crops they cultivated included rice, millet, yams, sweet potatoes, corns, and bananas… etc.
Taro Cultivation of the Yami in Lanyu (Orchid Island)
Lanyu (Orchid Island) is a 45-km volcanic island off the southeastern coast of Taiwan. The island is home to the Yami (Tao), an ethnic minority group who migrated to island from the Batan Archipelago 800 years ago. Wet taro, the most important root crop on the island, is grown in terraced, irrigated fields. It ranks highest, and is used at festivals and for ceremonies. The Yami don't use fertilizers when growing wet taro because they use the fertile topsoil with decayed taro leaves as the upper layer of their taro paddies. Since there is no particular harvest time for the taro, it is harvested year-round. When harvested, its stems are cut off and are replanted to produce new tuber while ferns (Christella acuminata Lev.) are left on the field ridges to serve as natural cover and weed retardant. The juice of ferns can be also used as a relief for skin itch caused by taro.
Waterweeds Fishing of the Thao in Sun Moon Lake
The Thao are a small group of Taiwanese aborigines who have lived near Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan for at least a century. Despite of their small group size with about 600 people, the Thao have retained their traditional cultures up until now. As the Thao people live at Sun Moon Lake, they have many ways for fishery, including waterweeds fishing, raker fishing, poisoning fishing, and net fishing, etc., of which the most ecological is the waterweeds fishing. Waterweeds in Sun Moon Lake form different sizes of "floating islets", in which lots of aquatic animals lay their eggs. With little efforts, the Thao people put their fishing traps around the roots of waterweeds and catch fish, shrimp or crabs.
Hydroponics is a technology for growing plants, using so-called cultural solution and medium, instead of the soil, water and fertilizers used in traditional methods. Cultural solution contains all the essential elements for the growth of a plant, and medium, such as sand, gravel, perlite, sawdust, or mineral wool, supports the plant.
Taiwan's hydroponics, which is officially supported, has developed its own system and takes the local agricultural and climatic conditions into account. All told, there are about 50 hydroponics Green Factories (meaning eco-friendly factories) throughout Taiwan at present and nearly 20 hectares of land use water culture. Tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, strawberries, water spinach, lettuce, cabbage, pea shoots, roses, and calla lilies are the common hydroponic crops in here. Most of all, water spinach and pea shoots rank very high in the world for their multiple harvests.
"Not dirt under nails of Taiwan's farmers!" is not just a slogan now.
Ganoderma lucidum Cultivation
Ganoderma lucidum (ling-chih) which has been described as "The King of Herbs" or "Spirit Medicine" is a fungus used in oriental medicine. It is of particular interest because it has been portrayed as a "fix-it-all" herbal remedy for maladies such as: HIV, cancer, low blood pressure, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, paralysis, ulcers, tiredness….., and the list goes on. It is considered rare and hard to find in nature, but is now quite commonly cultured in Taiwan.
Records (Compendium of Materia Medica published in 1578 during the Ming dynasty) prove that cultivation of ling-chih had initialed in ancient China. To create high quality and quantity ling-chih, Taiwanese farmers use sawdust in polypropylene bags in sheds instead of the traditional wood log cultivation. Also, they select the highest strain, harvest at the right time, treat them properly after the harvest, and mechanize their facilities. Aside from cultivating high quality ling-chih, researchers have developed advanced methods of extracting the priced mushrooms into power, capsules, or concentration forms.
Thanks to the advent of technology, this rare and priced mushroom is now more affordable and accessible to the average people.