The Destruction of the Hualien Plain

When we moved here 5 years ago, the area south of Hualien City down to the Mugua River was predominantly rural. Since then I’ve watched year by year as farmland is sold off, and ranches / chateaux / warehouses constructed on top. I’d guesstimate that today there are 50-100 active building plots, and plenty more acres of farmland still for sale.

Are there ANY regulations here on selling off farmland? Thinking here of green-belt, or greenspace land zone designations.

I’m aware there are some regulations on what can be done with purchased land - the “10% rule” where only that much of the ping you’ve bought can be built upon. The norm here is to build your chateau, holding to the 10% rule, then apply for & get your planning permission. Then once done, the builders come back in (!!) to extend your building to your own requirements. 20, 25% of land perhaps. Totally illegal, but who give a f&%k.

Are there before and after images on google maps in satellite view?

Nuit…for your reference, the rule/law regarding building homes on farmland is being reviewed and scheduled to change within a few months. (of course, there can be delays). New rule direction as this point seems wants to add various new restrictions about what land can be used to build a house and who can build. However, the various proposed restrictions are still under discussion.

This could make a big impact based on what I hear from Hualien agents and architects. If they change rule to say only “registered farmers” can build this will slow down process of development alot. Yes, there are those who will go out and find a registered farmer to be the front person but if land already purchased this is more difficult.

I agree that the JiAn area heading toward Mugua River has been developed alot more. However, heading past Mugua and past DongHua University the situation is different. I think the added development right around Hualien is hard to avoid just as more retirees head to Hualien. And some of the houses around that area are also on non-farm land with people just using most of the lot to build large homes.

Since minimum lot size for building home on farm land needs to 756 ping, if people actually farmed the remaining area and not go beyond the 1/10 housing foundation rule, then I think would be very helpful to reduce congestion.

Also, I believe the government is starting to take this issue slightly more seriously. You could try reporting what are obviously flagrant breaches (check on the green board that explains what the project is, or is supposed to be, and report those that are not what they say they are). Unless some hong bao are involved, there’s a modest chance it will be stopped and/or torn down. Just make sure your report is anonymous.

Indeed. On paper, the existing laws are just fine. No new laws are required. The gov’t just needs to actually enforce the existing ones. This is still a novel concept, but it does seem to be happening. Slowly.

Yilan is the same. The amount of building going on around here is phenomenal. Houses are constantly going up all over the place. Within about a five minute walk around the area where I live, I think there are well over 30 new houses that have been built in the past five years and this doesn’t count the townhouses.

Pretty soon, the countryside I moved to will become part of the city.

It’s all rather sad. Sorry that Yilan is the same. The rows of townhouses are the worst, as they are the ones that truly cut out light: rows of 15 or so large 4-storey terraced houses, no gaps inbetween. At least they don’t get approval so easily (I’d have thought), although I’ve noticed a few places recently where developers have bought large chunks of land (presume not technically farmland) and built multiple properties within a gated area.

The town gathers pace and expands.

I suspect not many locals are bothered though, and there are many sons / daughters of active but aging farmers who are thinking of doing one thing when Mama or Poppa are buried in the field rather than working it. Sell!

I like the idea of checking google for comparison, will look at that.

@ flakman, hear what you say about law changes, and that seems to be a good thing on the surface. Although it’s one thing to have a law on the books, and another for it to be properly enforced. I can see a lot of ‘registered farmers’ on the horizon.

Nuit…yes, maybe more “registered farmers” in future…me being one of them. I too planned to build a house on farmland but now seems unlikely if new law passes containing new provisions. I will continue to try as hope to have an organic farm and is so much easier if actually can live on property versus traveling back and forth. Law says if no house construction permit then can only build an equipment shed without toilet.

Heading down to Hualien again soon so will see what is the latest scoop/gossip about the new law…

It wouldn’t be so bad if there was a minimum of planning involved. Instead, lovely farmfields are being turned into ramshackle testaments to bad taste, indifference to upkeep, and a fondness for storing shit outside.

I used to think the cookie cutter residences back home were offensive but if only we had only such a thing to contemplate.

That was also my plan. The proposed law shows absolutely no understanding of how modern farming (as opposed to the outdated industrial sort) actually works. Since such a law would completely scupper the government’s big plans for rural regeneration, one has to assume that it was all just cant in the first place.

It continues… the heart of our local neighbourhood here is a small park surrounded by allotments. There’s a weekly organic market, with fresh produce from those plots.
Naively, I always assumed that this land was somehow protected, or at least communally owned. It turns out that it’s privately owned by a single family, who’ve now decided to cash in. Signs have been posted, the allotment holders have been given a month to vacate their land, and then, well, they’ll probably fling up a couple of rows of nice new 4 storey town houses.

It’s really sad to see areas being ruined in such a way, just so everyone can live cheek by jowl.
It’s going to go from this, to something like this. Not even sure if the rest of the greenery is going to be spared.

:thumbsdown: :thumbsdown:

another way of looking at it is that houses and non factory style places are going to be polluting the land FAR less than they were as farmland. but factories have done a good job of contaminating the ground, especially in the north with heavy metals.

the plains were destroyed a long time ago, now they just get facelifts and plastic surgery, but they are just as destroyed as before 5 years ago. farmland, at least the way they farm here, is probably worse than most other building types they would put there with the exception of some types of factories. farms look pretty, but they are incredibly dirty/polluted pieces of earth more often than not.

Well visually and lifestyle wise I think I know which I’d rather live beside and it’s not a factory.
I think the government here is incapable of regulating land use, they just keep repeating the same mistakes. LI did notice that the Ilan plain has got very built up since 10 years ago. Land equals money to these people and that’s all there is to it. They don’t really love the land.

Money tends to rule much of the society here, not just land. I used to think about liking to live near a farm as well…until i got into farming. Think about your house in the summer. Mango trees are fruiting, flowers are out. gorgeous. then think about your open windows in the heat and all those lovely sprays coming in. no thanks. trust me i prefer farms over factories as well, but i dont think they pollute any less than a typical small-medium sized factory does. with some exceptions of course.

basically the only land that has any sort of meaningful protection is the land that is generally too unstable and dangerous to build/live in: the mountains.

I think Taiwan has some real work ahead as far as land reform, but i also have this feeling they will fuck it up terribly trying to make more money from it and attempting to look good to the public. the local greedy public, not the minority who is better educated and thinks a little bit. proper land development that is actually profitable is pretty easy and simple, but would require an entire population mentality shift for it to actually happen. that tends to take a generation or 2, and often only once things have gotten so bad the average ignorant Joe is getting hurt from it, short term.

every other plain in Taiwan is the same, not just Hualien. Hualien just has more hippies to speak up about it :slight_smile:

Mmm, there’s not that many hippies here. I’ve seen more in Hengchun.

But I take your point about the pollution of the farming land, there’s been a couple of times I’ve had to cycling through some nasty clouds of whatever being sprayed around by local farmers. Still, the land that I’m currently bemoaning is (supposedly) pesticide free, and one of the sources for the organic market here. That kind of sucks to be losing that.

However, even on the most polluted of lands, farming practices can be reversed. Which means there is always hope. Most of the conversions I see taking place are just replacing soil with expensive turf, which will sit there doing nothing alongside the towering citadels of newly erected concrete.

You mean down by Kenting? I can see that. Probably more because much of the land there is aboriginal and factories and the like cannot legally be built. though the flat areas are often still open.

Farming pollution, like factory pollution, can be reversed. Current methods, like replacing soil as you mention, is time consuming, energy consuming, and expensive. Plus you also need to find unpolluted, or more often than not “less polluted”, dirt. Causing pollution to displace pollution. the old polluted soil isnt even made clean, its just dumped out of the way of progress to pollute somewhere else. Soil remediation is a very big interest of mine and as soon as i get off my ass we shall see the difference in one method i used on our farm. just need to go get the dirt tested.

A lot of things can be cleaned up incredibly well. Fungi methods are proving to be very effective for various toxins. I think one distinct feature of factories is the heavy metal pollution, which is bad in some areas of Taiwan. Heavy metals are a real bitch to deal with because fungi cannot digest it, and plants will only take it in and store it\ (meaning we eat it). This is why some factory types can be very bad indeed. I think more than the fact they are building on agriculture land, which was forested land before, is they are building near water sources. water spreads the shit like no ones business, and we all know how much it rains in Taiwan!

so for heavy metal there are few options. some will leach out into the ocean, good for land, bad for ocean. soil replacement can be done, which is debatable on how good a route that is. then there is using plants, which is like replacing the soil in a sense because you essentially grow out plants that suck up the heavy metals and store it in their tissues. then take these plants and put them somewhere else to make a smaller, but more concentrated wasteland. There are some fantastic studies done here in Taiwan on various species of plants used in phytoremediation for heavy metals, if interested i will go through my hard drive and try and find them (im not very organized). Trouble with using plants, although cheap, is it takes years to make a dent.

Frankly, it should be assumed that any locally produced food, be it plant or animal, is contaminated with something. Even organic i have doubts, at least with large scale commercial outfits. Mountains are about the only place i can think of as having the potential for being clean, but there is a LOT of air pollution/acid rain which could easily contaminate the soil. But i have not personally read into that aspect of it as it seems like an exercise in futility to even bother contemplating.

a well thought out polyculture (that word tends to automatically shut off most peoples brains just mentioning the term) system that incorporates mushroom cultivation along with plant foods would be an incredibly fast, effective, cheap (actually profitable) way of turning shit land into fertile clean land, assuming the influx of new contaminants is controlled.

Very old graveyard areas would likely be some of the cleanest land that is realistic to grow in, as much mountain area is pretty dangerous in summer.

Yes, that was my (very basic) point, if the land has not yet been built on, it can be cleansed. Once concrete foundations have been sunk, the chance of farming tends to be gone for ever.

[quote=“Pingdong”]Current methods, like replacing soil as you mention, is time consuming, energy consuming, and expensive. Plus you also need to find unpolluted, or more often than not “less polluted”, dirt. Causing pollution to displace pollution. the old polluted soil isnt even made clean, its just dumped out of the way of progress to pollute somewhere else. Soil remediation is a very big interest of mine and as soon as I get off my ass we shall see the difference in one method i used on our farm. just need to go get the dirt tested.

A lot of things can be cleaned up incredibly well. Fungi methods are proving to be very effective for various toxins. I think one distinct feature of factories is the heavy metal pollution, which is bad in some areas of Taiwan. Heavy metals are a real bitch to deal with because fungi cannot digest it, and plants will only take it in and store it\ (meaning we eat it)…then there is using plants, which is like replacing the soil in a sense because you essentially grow out plants that suck up the heavy metals and store it in their tissues. then take these plants and put them somewhere else to make a smaller, but more concentrated wasteland[/quote]
I would never advocate soil replacement, as you say that is just moving the problem from one locale to another. Far better to use a quick-growing legume that can draw out and concentrate the poisons in the leaf tissues. Certainly you have to be prepared to work in seasons rather than months, for this to succeed. Depending on how poisoned the land is. That’s the kind of timescale nature is most comfortable with.

This is definitely all very interesting stuff, although not directly related to the OT of actual land-loss. I think most of the land being sold off around this area is farmland of reasonable quality, certainly it has seen pesticide use, but hasn’t been damaged by industry. What heavy industry there is in this county tends to be on or near the coast.

It’s good to know there are people out there on the island who are contemplating fungal methods, polyculture etc. Post up links if you have them, although this could do with its own thread. Didn’t finley have a good thread about resusitating old land?

I think it was pingdong started that one. It would be nice to revive it if anyone has any interesting projects going on. I’ve just started on a new piece, so I’ll post photos if or when I get some results.

On the subject of preventing land loss, I’ve been trying to get hold of vetiver grass for terracing. There’s at least 30 years of solid, practical research in Asia showing that it’s very, very effective if you use a variety that doesn’t produce stolons. Gov’ts and NGOs are pushing it like crazy in Vietnam, Thailand, Phils, Haiti … all sorts of other places, because of it’s proven benefits and minimal risk. Taiwan, as usual, is decades behind the curve. There have been a couple of papers published here recommending it for biofuel [Wang: “What can we do with this stuff?” Lee: “I know, let’s set fire to it! 哈哈哈” :loco: ]. A bit of finger-wagging nonsense about invasion risk from a strain that produces a few, more-or-less viable seeds (the researchers have never actually tried this stuff up in competition with the local grasses, and saw no significance in the fact that previously-introduced varieties became extinct). Virtually no mention of its potential to prevent the awful land erosion that we get here due to bare-soil agriculture. I’m thinking of those images of tearful farmers and their rain-damaged vegetables that we see every single year - tears of happiness, I suspect, since they get more in gov’t payoffs than they’d get at market, without the hassle of harvest and sale. You would have thought, by now, someone would have had the idea that just maybe there’s something wrong with their techniques.

Anyway, universities are keeping vetiver strictly to themselves. Too harmful to release to the general public, apparently. Unlike the huge array of toxins I can go and buy, no questions asked, at the farming store down the road. :stinkyface:


I have not tried fungi related soil remediation simply because i dont have much of that kind of pollution on my land. There are numerous things online though. It is certainly more work though, mycology requires some skill in getting it to colonize and create spawn to go inoculate the land with. Not incredibly difficult if the strain is picked well, but more work than plants for sure. the advantage is the speed they work at is far faster than plants and even bacterial methods. The other big problem with plants is they use vascular bundles to more or less wick up stuff, where as mushrooms actually digest and change the chemical composition. But i dont think even they can do much for heavy metals, in which case sicking up and relocating is probably the only option at this point (or stop dumping the shit…)

Finley, not sure about that grass, but remember seeing another type often used for similar things as it grew deep roots (important), grew dense, not high and didnt seed. that was a few years ago, i need to try and find the name. The process of importing plants into Taiwan is easy, straightforward and believe it or not actually quite logical (yes, logical!). But importing anything in the grass family is going to be hit or miss because of potential for naturalizing and invasiveness. 2 things the gov here try to avoid importing are weedy plants and disease prone plants. Best bet is to just order small ones in an envelope and risk it through customs. Call it a food on the outside customs form and no customs agent will even bother thinking about it.

That actually isn’t true. Gov payout is very small (though very high compared to some other nations). I’m not sure if there is some form of crop scale, but the farmers i know make almost nothing compared to what they could make at market. A lychee farm we were looking to buy, for example, would only fetch 6000/fen if a storm took it out....1 fen of lychee makes a whole lot more money! Even cheaper veggies i think should bring in more at market than gov payouts, but then like you say there is no need to harvest (but you have already invested in all the fertilizers/chemicals you dumped on them prior to the storm).

In fairness to Taiwan’s farmers, the conditions here are more extreme as far as water goes than most other places on earth! there are methods of preventing soil erosion, but one big problem with many of them is you create either too much water or not enough. Though in drier places in the country this may change, where i live it rains incredibly heavy during summer. The rains get so bad, the only hope you have of saving your crops are covering them. I have had plants under heavy rains lose much of their tissue on their leaves with only the leaf veins left on the plant. No amount of land planning can protect you form that unless you have greenhouses, its just a shitty situation.

Living borders, like your grass, are probably the best route as raising the borders makes your land a pond and diversion swales tend to end up being dug deep by intense rainfall and make them difficult to plan/work properly. I think a big problem is ignorance on the part of the farmer. They do not actually understand much of how the crops they grow react, the botany of the crops. So they tend to plant the wrong crops at the wrong time in the wrong areas sometimes. Planting vegetables in pingdong in summer, frankly speaking, is just stupid. I think some farmers just sow the seeds expecting the gov to pay them in a typhoon because they are almost surely going to be damaged simply by the rain hitting the leaves, never mind soil issues.

lately (last 2 years) i have seen a LOT better land planning as far as farms go down here. people using black agriculture fabric (not that thin plastic shyte that breakdown in 1 year), alley cropping more etc. Taiwan already has a massive culture of poly culture, you see it in many people s yards in the countryside. And the reason this can work so well in Taiwan over other countries, aside from warm climate, is because much of the crops here are done by hand anyway due to small land size. The biggest problem with poly culture is getting machines in and cost of labor, but when farmers are already doing the work more or less by hand (or small machinery) that obstacle isnt as much an issue. The stumper for me is all the people that have these wonderful polycrop systems in place at their home, then drive out to their chemically addicted mono crops for income. its improving though, and with more education things improve.

One thing i want to try and get annual crop farmers into here is mycology. Oyster mushrooms specifically. If they can actually manage not to gas their crops every few weeks, they can keep all the left over waste that they normal burn, dry it, shred it, bag and pasteurize it, inoculate it, wait 1-2 months and have a massive crop of mushrooms, which are relatively expensive compared to most vegetables. doing this creates an entirely new income source, and a very handsome one, provides fantastic compost (=fertilizer) in the end and also cleans up the land without having to burn all that crap. my biggest issue with burning crops isnt so much the burning of the plants, but the burning of all the chemicals the plants have wicked up into their tissues, this we literally start breathing all these contaminants. Just like how they say dont throw certain things in the garbage, like batteries, because they burn the garbage. same principle.

Sustainable cropping actually makes more money and is far superior to most other methods. But it does require and incredibly large amount of knowledge as a person needs to actually think about the botany of the plants and also get into ecology and more sciences as interactions between organisms are essential in how the system works, and i think this is the only reason that stop people. Its easy for people who don’t actually know to treat polyculture/sustainability systems as illegitimate, non efficient hippy crap…but sustainable always just means it can sustain itself, that should be a good thing in any field. Polyculture simply means more than one, how growing more than one species has turned into a four letter word used by hippies i am not sure. You can squeeze so much out of the land here is unreal, if you plan it well. Growing things in dead space, why not? thats an improvement. Treating every single plant on the farm as a nutrient mine, as all they do is mine nutrients from the soil, would probably greatly reduce throwing it away. The way I personally invision proper farming is you only take off the land what you intend to sell/eat. all agriculture waste should be kept on site and reworked into the land as there is incredible amounts of nutrition in that waste just waiting to be broken down and unlocked from its present state. even if the farmer is lazy, the solution is easy: buy a few pigs and build a fence. problem solved. no smoke, added fertilizers. its not the best way about it, but a step in a very positive direction.

First, as I am moving to Hualien next year I too worry about the sprouting up of some large developments in various areas. I think only a major slump in economy can slow down the pace.

Meanwhile, since I plan to do some farming (very small scale) on land in Hualien I am glad to see the previous comments about various farming methods. Perhaps in future we have enough people interested in sharing good food sources and farming related information to form a new topic in Forumosa.

For example, I am interested to do some soil testing for heavy metals. Our local government agricultural office does not provide this service (only basic nutrient/mineral testing). The officer sort of laughed at me for wanting to do the test as he knows where our land is. He said “No need to test…the land there is okay with no factories around. Land has been fallow for 6 years so okay. I know that piece of land…no problem.” Well, in future would enjoy hearing various opinions while I do my own researching…

ask that guy who laughed where you can get it done. Farming coops would be another place to ask. it should not be hard to get done, and if they laugh, laugh back at them explain heavy metals don’t have a 6 year half life…but don’t only test for heavy metals, they are just one of the hardest things to get rid of but there are plenty of other soil contaminants here. Acid rain alone drastically messes up the PH of soil, especially farm land which keeps getting worked and left bare. some typhoons will dump a lot of salt on the land too. there are lots of things that can contaminate soils, mostly non natural but some are natural.

in our area the dirt is incredibly hard clay silt so i imagine once contaminants that dont readily break down get in there, it will take a while to get them out. actually, its about the only time i see tractors plowing fields to be necessary, in order to break up the soil and allow whatever means you are using to take out the contamination

but the dude is right, land that has laid fallow for 6 years is probably going to be some of the cleanest/best land you can find as far as soil fertility goes. Doesnt mean you shouldnt test, if for no other reason than to have a baseline from when you began for information’s sake.