Civic groups call for preservation of farmland

Taipei-Several environmental protection groups in Taiwan urged the government Wednesday to commit to maintaining the national registry of farmland at its current level as part of a draft national spatial plan that came out in October.

"We want existing farmland to be preserved nationwide," said Citizen of the Earth specialist Wu Chi-jung (???) at a press conference held in front of the Construction and Planning Agency under the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), ahead of a two-day review of the agency's plan.

Wu argued that the farmland registry plays a key role on issues related to food safety and balanced industrial development. "The registry must not be reduced in size," he stressed.

Homemakers United Foundation researcher Tang Lin-hsiang (???) said the number of illegal factories built on farmland indicate that land management in Taiwan is weak.

Tang blamed that on a failure to enforce existing laws and a tendency to allow illegal buildings to remain on farmland even when identified as illegal.

Last year the government demanded 15 illegal factories around the country be immediately closed. However, only five have so far been razed, he said.

In addition, over 10,000 illegal factories currently occupy more than 10,000 hectares of farmland around the country, with the government apparently unable to do anything, Tang argued.

According to Council of Agriculture data, about 13,000 hectares of farmland around Taiwan have been used illegally. Meanwhile, Ministry of Economic Affairs statistics show there are 38,000 unregistered illegal factories, 40 percent of which are on farmland.

In other words, about 15,000 such factories are on farmland, according to the MOEA's statistics.

Kuo Hung-yi (???), a full-time lawyer at the Environmental Rights Foundation, cited statistics compiled by Taiwan Environmental Information Association researcher Chang Shu-chen (???) that show at least 5,400 illegal factories are involved in high or medium pollution-causing businesses.

For a national spatial plan to be able to protect farmland, the government must outline more efficient ways to address the problem of illegal factories, Kuo said.

Taiwan Rural Front member Hsu Wen-feng (???) suggested measures need to be taken to better control the farmland registry, including a provision that if registered land is designated for a different use, the relevant authorities must find an equivalent size plot to replace it as arable land.

The review of the draft national spatial plan is being held at the Construction and Planning Agency Wednesday and Thursday. After the review, the plan will be delivered to the Executive Yuan for approval so it can be made public by May 1, as stipulated in the Spatial Planning Act.

The act, which took effect on May 1, 2016, sets guidelines for land use, conservation of the natural environment and cultural assets nationwide, and restoration of sensitive areas and damaged land in pursuit sustainable development.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel