Agricultural issues are getting more and more attention recently in Taiwan, sadly not because of the vibrant development of the agricultural sector, but quite the opposite.
In March, I reported about the debate on Statue of Rural Renewal that was about to be passed in Legislative Yuan. Given all the problems and controversies in the Statue, the Council of Agriculture had been pressured by a coalition of farmers, scholars, and social activists to organize more public hearings, in particular in rural areas for collecting more public opinions. However, these public hearings have been neglected by mainstream media, and the only way the public get to know the discussion and debate is via citizen journalists who have participated in the hearing and posted their reports at online platforms, such as dfun.com (zh) :
Citizen reports on public hearings
On April 21st, Kaohsiung County, citizen journalist Relax reported:
The next day, in Hualien County, peggy reported:
As expected, only legislators, councilors, chief managers of community development associations, and village heads got on the stage to speak….
The bureaucratic and formalistic public hearings were under serious criticism online and finally President Ma Ying-jeou agreed to meet the anti-Statute activists in the Presidential Palace(zh) on April 29th. During the meeting, Ma required Chen Wu-siung (陳武雄) the Chief Councilor of the Council of Agriculture to review the whole Statute and post the revised Statute online “if necessary”. However, nothing had really changed after the meeting and the majority of Legislative Yuan are determined to pass the Statute before May 20th, a day marked the inauguration anniversary of Ma's presidency. Activists then initiated a “citizen public hearing” via webcast. They call this activity “3 small media Webcasting“:
希望將辯論現場畫面傳送到農村與社區，你可以協助報導在地的聲音、將討論農再的心得繼續投稿民間媒體。 農再的討論不能只在官方辦的公聽會中草率結束，地方更可以以主動的方式，要求官方來地方辦公聽會，透過網路直播在一起檢視公共政策是否有問題？激盪起真正 「由下而上」的討論，非讓「由下而上」成為政府卸責的口號。
The first cross-media cooperation will be the live webcasting at 9:30 AM, May 26th, in the Legislative Yuan, Taipei. The three small Media will invite citizen journalists, bloggers, local organizers, community-building groups to participate in “Taipei LiveCast” or “Local end LiveCast”.
We wish to show the debate of the Taipei public hearing to other rural villages and communities. Apart from LiveCast, you can also help by covering local voices or submitting your view on the statue to other civil media. The discussion should not come to an end in those official public hearings. We expect the LiveCast to encourage local communities to be more active in demanding the government for local public hearings, and the LiveCast would allow people from across the country to discuss public policy together. We need to realize the genuine “bottom-up” discussion process rather than letting the government turning the “bottom-up” consultation into mere slogan and political performance.
Farmers-activists also use twitter , stickeraction, justin.tv, and other social media to spread the above message.
However, recently president Ma faced a new wave of political crisis after the mass rally and over night sit-in protest against his China policies on 17th of May. Public attention might be directed to more dramatic political controversy rather than “regular law enactment”, like the Statute of Rural Renewal.
Songs and musics
Meanwhile an indie band, Hao-Ke (好客樂團) took another approach to raise public awareness of Taiwan's rural crisis. Members of the band are all farmers and they have recently entered the entrant list of the 20th Golden Melody Award on Best Bands. Indeed, the cultural approach is very effective.
Ecogoodies recommended Hao-Ke's album “Love to Eat Rice”:
Photo by Guan Yu, the vocal of Hao-Ke.
Hao-Ke described their feeling after they were nominated in the Award on their official blog:
They started the experimental project of “rice coop” about 3 years ago. Ke Zhi-hao, the guitar player of Hao-Ke explained their idea and daily routine of the “rice cooperatives” on e-info.org:
The band uses wikimapia to show the location of their farmland, and encourage audiences and fans to join the cooperation.
Apart from Hao-Ke, bands like Country Boys (zh) and Sheng Xiang also convey their love, sorrow, and anger for the disappearing Taiwanese agriculture through their music. These bands and musicians also actively participate in street gatherings or protests against destructive agricultural policies and globalization.
Artists and activists in Taiwan are cooperating more and more frequently on various social issues though their influence is still weak when compared with the government and big corporates. But joint handedly, they make the civil society more vibrant .
Last but not the least, please listen to “I Don't Want to Be a Farmer Anymore”, a song full of anger depicting the erosion of Taiwanese agriculture and rural life, performed by Country Boys when they attended “Free Burma, Free Aung San Suu Kyi” concert last year.
The worst thing is that the officials \did not\ prepare the statute to farmers in the public hearings!!
I was so angry to condemn them that people were treated as nothing as the officials ignored the statute-explaining process.