Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Getting in touch with your inner farmer (Taiwan Business Topics)

Over the past half century, agricultural production has declined to less than 2% of Taiwan’s GDP. At the same time, agricultural tourism and leisure farms have boomed. The  introduction of two-day weekends are a major reason, but the government’s Council of Agriculture – which views tourism as a way of lifting farmers’ incomes – also can take some credit.

Relatively few Westerners take advantage of this aspect of travel in Taiwan. Most of the leisure-farm managers interviewed for this article said the bulk of the non-Taiwanese tourists they see are from Singapore, Malaysia, or Hong Kong.

Small Swiss Homestay, located in the tea-growing uplands of Chiayi County, welcomes plenty of foreign guests, both Western and Asian. But “only a few of them are interested in tea growing and processing,” says owner Charlies Liu.

Liu, a member of both the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association (TLFDA, tel: (03) 9381-269) and the Alishan Leisure Farms Development Association, says the leisure farms in the Alishan area do not currently receive a significant number of foreign tourists, but during meetings of these associations, members often discuss how more foreign visitors could be attracted. "The biggest problem is the language barrier, since most owners or their family members can’t speak English," Liu explains.

The TLFDA’s own promotional efforts seem to prove his point. The association does not seem to respond to English-language inquiries. Also, its website – which lists 202 member farms – has no usable English content.

Fortunately for those who would like to learn something about how food is grown, or who think a day or two in the countryside would be fun and healthy, several of Taiwan’s leisure farms are suitable for visitors who speak little or no Chinese.

Sheipa Leisure Farm (tel: (03) 585-6192; email:; no admission charge) has a comprehensive English-language website as well as some English-speaking staff. The farm, in Hsinchu County, has 78 rooms and cabins in European-style buildings; staying overnight costs from NT$4,020 to NT$10,240 per room, breakfast and dinner included.

As the name implies, Sheipa Leisure Farm is near Shei-Pa National Park. The Guanwu Forest Recreation Area is a short drive away. A nearby peak, Yemakanshan (1,923 meters above sea level), can be reached via an hour-long hike. When the weather is clear – often it is not – the scenery in this part of Taiwan is spectacular...

The complete version of this article can be read online, here, and appears in the July 2013 issue - the annual travel and culture special - of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei's monthly magazine. The photo above was supplied by Green World, a farm I contacted but didn't in the end include in the article.