How Taiwan Develops Markets For Farm Produce Thru Research
Everytime I visit the Kaohsiung, the prefecture in southern Taiwan, my first impulse is to enjoy the fruits in season. In fact, my father-in-law is always ready with a few pieces, especially with my favorite Taiwan orange – Liu Ding, which is available almost all year round except for the winter months, and lately, their very juicy am, sweet makopa. This last Christmas break was no different.
Taiwan is now well-known the world over for its tasty fruits. Not imported but all locally-grown. My son, Julius, enjoyed the sweet Indian Jujube, juicy Gem Makopa and Carambola offered by Dr. Kan-Shu Chen, director of the Fengshan Tropical Horticultural Experiment Branch, during our recent visit. All these were developed through research and years of field improvement in production management technique and postharvest handling procedures. The Fengshan Tropical Horticultural Experiment Branch is one of;two principal research stations among eleven of the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute (TARI).
HISTORY AND MANDATE
A developed agricultural foundation, an island-wide educational system and the railway system are what the Taiwanese are thankful for to the Japanese colonizers of 50 years. Towards the end of its occupation, the Japanese established the Fengshan Tropical Horticultural Experiment Station in 1940. Initially the improvement of pineapple and vegetable production were its primary mandates. In 1981, the station was reorganized according to the Scientific Technology Development Plan issued by the Executive Yuan (equivalent to our Executive Department). The research sections were restructured into four departments, namely: tropical fruit trees, vegetable crops, plant protection, and management, and utilization department. Since then, it has become an important research center under the TARI.
The Fengshan branch conducts both basic and applied research in breeding and genetics, crop physiology, tissue culture and biotechnology, soil science and plant nutrition, disease and pest control, and agricultural machinery to improve production and marketing of tropical fruit, vegetable and flower crops in Taiwan.
The facility includes 64 hectares of experimental and demonstration fields, 2.2 hectares of greenhouses and screen-houses, with laboratories, administrative offices, library, and conference rooms in 5,000 square meters spread all over its sprawling ground. It had a 2009 budget of P180M aside from grants and other incomes. It has more than 80 full-time staff with 30 scientists conducting a wide range of research activities. With its wide span of greeneries in the midst of urban developments, the center has become a favorite “pasyalan” for urbanites in their early morning and late afternoon jogging and walking with friends and family. The center warmly welcomes them with open gates.
PROGRAMS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
The Fengshan branch’s research and development activities are multi-disciplinary under four technical departments. These include varietal development, disease resistance screening, characterization, and field evaluation of improved germplasm. The technical development of unique production methods to dtimize yield and quality, and the development of postharvest handling and processing techniques to maintain freshness, nutrient content, or other qualitative aspects of horticultural products are all intertwined functions of the “team approach” in conducting research. This has resulted in many successful cultivars, bringing in more profits for the farmers.
DEPARTMENT OF TROPICAL FRUIT TREES
This department conducts research to improve the genetic potential of papaya, mango, lychee, guava, wax apple (makopa), passion fruit, carambola (balimbing), Indian jujube, pineapple and sugar apple (atis). Another aspect of research is to modify the micro-environment in which the fruit crops are grown to simplify and improve farm management, improve their taste and texture to create better demand, and increase yield. There are about 328 accessions of fruit . crops that have been documented and characterized.
Research outputs have resulted in correcting boron deficiency in papaya as well as come up with more tolerant varieties against Papaya Ring Spot Virus (PRSV). The use of net house in papaya production was found effective to prevent PRSV diseases as well as oriental fruit fly and bird damage in Indian jujube. Mechanical pruning of Yu-Her-Pau lychee variety has made possible dwarf cultivation for adjusting flowering time to increase pollination and lowering labor cost in maintenance and harvesting. Controlled flooding, root pruning, trunk girdling and/or black net shading are effective techniques to obtain early maturing and quality makopa. Induced flowering technique has made year-round production of pineapple possible. Branch training technique has effectively increased quality guava fruits production.
The pruning technique of two-year old mango trees every six months to induce the growth of new branches, which in turn attain commercial fruiting on the third year after transplanting grafted seedlings and close planting every three meters apart result in early returns on investment, better management and. higher productivity. (This will be dealt with in another article).
DEPARTMENT OF VEGETABLE CROPS
This department has addressed its research on heat tolerance and virus resistance of mustard and radish, and fusarium-wilt resistance of ampalaya. It is responsible for the improved production technologies for onion and garlic, seedling management for cucurbits, simplified hydroponics for leafy vegetables and muskmelons, tissue culture and mass propagation of tropical flowers.
The improved production techniques developed has converted Taiwan into an onion exporting country. New breeding technologies also placed Taiwan in the world map as seed producer of high-quality varieties of hybrid tomato, sweet pepper, cucumber and watermelon. Vegetable varieties to suit the seasonal weather conditions and consumer preferences for leafy vegetables, cauliflower and seedless watermelon were developed for the benefit of the farmers and consumers. Research on new breed of flowers is also conducted.
DEPARTMENT OF PLANT PROTECTION
This department is involved in disease epidemiology and population dynamics of insect pests of horticultural crops, improving disease and insect diagnoses, and developing integrated pest management and disease control on tuberose, mango, Indian jujube, pineapple, balimbing and guava. A continuing evaluation on the impact of environmental pollutants on horticultural crops production is also undertaken.
The department’s scientists were first to report the mealybug as the primary vector for pineapple wilt disease and its control. For mango, hot water treatment to control anthracnose and boron spray to correct boron deficiency for higher marketable yield. Publication of List of Thrips and their host plants in Taiwan and Atlas and identification of important Thrips of Taiwan by the Department gave a clear guidance to farmers.
Use of bagging for balimbing, ampalaya and mango fruits was introduced to the farmers; use of Lacewing to control other pests like papaya red spider mite; use of cross protection technique in muskmelon virus disease control and the use of sticky yellow paper to monitor the population density of seasonal insect infestation are some of the concrete technology interventions being adopted by farmers which the department promoted.
DEPARTMENT OF MANAGEMENT AND UTILIZATION
This department specializes in farm and production management of different crops, including farm mechanization, postharvest handling and processing. Research and application of appropriate machineries for seedling preparation, transplanting, fertilization, pruning, harvesting and processing are conducted extensively in cooperation with the private sector. Sustainable management of natural resources like water and soil resource conservation, and the optimum use of farm inputs are important aspects of its research activities. Farming techniques developed, like contour farming, for mango, pineapple, lychee and citrus orchard to conserve water have produced great benefits for the farmers.
Processing of produce like canning for pineapple, balimbing, lychee, papaya and melon, juice making for pineapple, papaya, passion fruit and tomato; dehydrated fruits like pineapple, melon, papaya, mango, balimbing and Indian jujube; paste making for melon and pickling for mango and melon were developed. Most of the above processing techniques have been successfully transferred to the agri-food industry and have become profit makers.
The achievements of the Fengshan Tropical Horticultural Research Branch of TART have a significant impact on the income of farmers, and better nutrition and quality of life of the Taiwanese. It has proven itself to be an effective research institution which delivers full measure for each dollar invested by the government.
The research center is gearing itself for the challenges of the new millennium for both the domestic and the international markets by enhancing its role as the germplasm, knowledge and technology center of excellence for the humid tropical horticultural crops. The center must work on current and future problems and demands in agriculture. It will address itself on developing better varieties and production systems that will help farmers maximize profits, not just yields, under sustainable conditions. “We must be prepared to demonstrate how to grow and market most profitably horticultural crops with the least labor, least chemicals, water, space and time, and the least damage to the environment and the satisfaction of consumer dietary preferences.” Thus is the summary of what the center stands for into the future.
A CHRISTMAS WISH
It was really a fruitful Christmas agritour for me, my wife, Juni, and my son, Julius around the breeding farms of southern Taiwan as well as a guided tour around the Fengshan Tropical Horticultural Experiment Branch of TART. We were indeed very lucky to have Dr. San-Tai Wang as our tour guide. He is in charge of the Department of Vegetable Crops and a very experienced horticulturist specializing in vegetable breeding and field trials. He is directly involved in the varietal trials of lettuce, radish, mustard, ampalaya, cauliflower, broccoli, hydroponics system for leafy vegetables and 50 varieties of Kangkong! He is really a superman for vegetable research and farming systems. Dr. Wang visited the Philippines late November with two colleagues, Dr. Sheng-Chung Huang, director of TART’s division of Plant Germplasm, and Dr. A-Shiarn Hwang, expert on citrus at the Chia-Yi Agricultural Experiment Station of TARI. Our return visit is a continuing cultivation of the friendship that, hopefully, will bear much fruits in the near future. It was also a second visit to Dr. Kan-Shu Chen. The first was with the Philippine Seed Industry Association (PSIA) tour last May, ably arranged by Atty. Roque L. Mamon, Jr., program officer of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei.
My wish is that there will be more technology exchanges between Taiwan and the Philippines to develop the full potential of joint efforts between Taiwanese and Filipino farmers. Their synergy will indeed be beneficial to all.
By Arsenio ‘Toto’ Barcelona
President, Harbest Agribusiness Corporation