Project title: Discovering and manufacturing “nature”: “Eco-Friendly” farming in Jinshan
I’d like to begin my story with this picture which shows people gathering around Jinshan, a historical region on the North Coast of Taiwan, to watch a White Crane, an endangered migratory bird coming from Siberia. This unexpected visitor chose Jinshan as her first appearance in Taiwan. From 2014 to 2016, she settled on this farm, and successfully attracted many tourists. The Siberian white crane soon became an icon of the place, bringing in social activists and local leaders to Jinshan to start envisioning and engaging in place-making (regional revitalization)(地方創生).
My project is inspired by Robert Weller’s Discovering Nature: Globalization and Environmental Culture in China and Taiwan. The book shows how Western ideas about nature have interacted with Chinese traditions and explores the causes and consequences of how people understand “nature” itself and change their way of perceiving the environment. Resonated with Robert, my research investigates different sociotechnical imaginaries of Jinshan farmland from the aspects of national spatial planning, ecological conservation, and agri-food education. By comparing the “farm” imagined by multiple actors in Jinshan, I argue that nature is discovered and manufactured in the political and economic backgrounds of those actors.
Farmers in Jinshan used to grow rice during Japanese colonialization. After the War, a series of land reform policies imposed by the ruling party Kuomintang for boosting industrialization and economic growth severely impacted agriculture development in Taiwan. Crop production gradually declined in the rural areas due to rapid urbanization. People in the countryside moved to big cities, which induced an asymmetric development gaps between the urban and rural areas, and Jinshan was no exception. The loss of people and the lack of industrialization has become the biggest problem for local politicians and the central government. As a consequence, starting from 1962, the Construction and Planning Agency from the central government conducted several surveys and discussions to re-envision the land use in Jinshan Township with a clear agenda to rejuvenate the local economy. Interestingly, the land where the white cranes settled did not appear in the original planning, indicating that this piece of land and its values were invisible in this period from the eyes of the central government. Urban Planners have continually dominated the imagination of Jinshan Township for nearly 40 years until the arrival of the Siberian white crane.
Urban Planner such as the Construction and Planning Agency (營建署) has continually dominated the imagination of Jinshan Township for nearly 40 years. The land where the white cranes settled did not appear in the original urban planning, indicating that this piece of land and its values were invisible.
The arrival of the Siberian white crane has initiated a set of re-imaginations of Jinshan, including the use of Farmland, natural resources discovery, and management. The increasing crowds, along with the growing business in this area opened up a series of conversations and actions regarding land conservation and tourism. An NGO, Taiwan Ecological Engineering Foundation (TEEF), started promoting new sociotechnical imaginaries of farmlands in Jinshan, to rebuild its place identity, including renaming the land where white crane settled as “Chin-Shui Wetland.”
Unsurprisingly, conflicts between bird habitat preservation and infrastructure construction to support the growth of tourism became severe in the process of place-making. Another environmental NGO was trying to interfere with wetland preservation in the past. But farmers in Chin-Shui Wetland were angry that the bird lives seemed to matter more than the peasants’ rights. The dilemma between conservation and growth prompted TEEF to reject adopting the American wild wetland conservation model. Instead, it introduced the Satoyama Initiative to re-imagine Jinshan’s human-nature interaction in order to construct a symbiotic relationship between local agricultural activities, economic development, conservation, and tourism.
“Satoyama” is a Japanese term for traditional landscapes and human production. When humans manage the land appropriately, activities on the ground can benefit both biodiversity and human livelihoods, thus leading to “society in harmony with nature. These images illustrate three principles of Jinshan place-making, derived from the Satoyama vision, including habitat restoration, industrial recovery, and ecological education.
According to the media coverage, Ba-yien Village is the most successful model of Satoyama principle application in the Jinshan District. The TEEF engineered a Socio-ecological Production Landscape to rebuild the waterway and use natural stones to construct artificial spaces and sceneries for tourism. The idea is to integrate the natural and artificial components into a landscape to create a “sustainable ground” for both human and nature. The landscape reimaging and re-building have transformed the Ba-yien Village into a hybrid entity constituted of forest recreation parks and traditional agriculture.
Although TEEF formulated the Ba-yien model as a win-win solution for conservation, tourism, and agricultural development, different opinions and conflicts among the foundation, residents, local and central government regarding Jinshan place-making still emerged over years. Residents of Ba-yien could not tolerate the negative impact of tourism, such as noise and pollution. They accused that new business also brought disputes of interest into the village and thus seriously damaged the unity of the place. In addition, the Yangmingshan National Park Headquarters did not support the TEEF plan. According to the National Park, this area is in the grace period of use the aging population who settled in this area, and eventually, the Park Service needs to take over the land governance. As a consequence, boycotts from the local residents and national park service become the resistance for TEEF to promote its plan in the future.
Other than TEEF, some environmental activists were also interested in turning Jinshan into a stage for their sustainability practice. In 2016, the year of the departure of the Siberian white crane, a famous social activist, Yang Ru-Men, came under the spotlight to advocate his idea of sustainable agriculture in Jinshan. Being known as the famous “rice bomber” due to his anti-WTO aggressive protest against the agricultural products importing policy, Yang’s mission in Jinshan is not about conservation tourism, but to fight for the well-being of local farmers who suffered from long-term low-income problems.
When Yang visited Jinshan, he thought that the field in Jinshan would be beautiful if there were no pesticides and fertilizers. Yang’s proposal to develop unpolluted natural farms was welcomed by the local youth, the cultural and historical workers, and some farm owners. Yang and his company gradually became the spokesman for Jinshan’s sustainable development, eventually causing TEEF’s withdrawal from the area.
Yang’s idea on sustainable farming is to challenge the low pricing strategy dictated by wholesalers. He advocated the importance for farmers to control and expand sales channels, along with building direct producer-consumer relationships. To achieve the goal, he came up with several business models to improve the confidence and autonomy of the peasants by changing how people perceived “farms” and foods.
Combining this marketing strategy with his organic agriculture experience, Yang established a small company aiming to develop safe and non-toxic rice products. Their business includes hosting farmers’ markets to expand sales channels, educating the public on food justice, and creating a platform of consultation and communication between farmers and consumers. For Yang and his supporters, the farmland represents an agri-food system more than a wild ecosystem.
Yang Ru-Men and his company hope that their rice and other crops can sell for better prices by providing an “eco-friendly” label on their products. However, the labeling requires the approval of the green conservation regulation. The green conservation regulation applies pesticide-free principles to not just the agricultural products, but also the entire environment where the products are grown. One of the indicators is the appearance of specific species, such as the masked civet (白鼻心) in this screenshot of the video.
To achieve this goal, Yang partnered with the Bureau of Forestry and joined the Ecology Green Network, a national-level policy. This green network advocates social movements that revive suburban mountains into more organic and friendly environments for wild animals. Through the cooperation with Forestry Bureau, Yang and his company received a budget subsidy from the central government. Without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, Yang’s team managed to preserve small clean ponds and waterways. Wild animals re-appeared in some farmlands tutored by Yang’s company, attracting zoologists and entomologists to conduct field studies and collect scientific data to study the rejuvenation of sensitive wildlife. Their non-toxic agriculture was renamed from environment-friendly into “eco-friendly” agriculture, which means wildlife and human activity can co-exist on the farm.
To summarize my photo essay, we can see that “nature” was discovered through specific perspectives and tools in a series of events. The farm is imagined by stakeholders who come from different political and economic backgrounds. And their imaginaries of farmlands result in further “sustainability,” which were manufactured in the practice of place-making. Sustainability has gradually evolved from economic growth, being in harmony with surroundings, and environmentally friendly farming into eco-friendly farming.