Taiwan’s Drought Pits Chip Makers Against Farmers


HSINCHU, Taiwan — Chuang Cheng-deng’s modest rice farm is a stone’s throw from the nerve heart of Taiwan’s laptop chip trade, whose merchandise energy an enormous share of the world’s iPhones and different devices.

This 12 months, Mr. Chuang is paying the worth for his high-tech neighbors’ financial significance. Gripped by drought and scrambling to save lots of water for properties and factories, Taiwan has shut off irrigation throughout tens of 1000’s of acres of farmland.

The authorities are compensating growers for the misplaced earnings. But Mr. Chuang, 55, worries that the thwarted harvest will drive clients to hunt out different suppliers, which may imply years of depressed earnings.

“The government is using money to seal farmers’ mouths shut,” he stated, surveying his parched brown fields.

Officials are calling the drought Taiwan’s worst in additional than half a century. And it’s exposing the large challenges concerned in internet hosting the island’s semiconductor trade, which is an more and more indispensable node within the world provide chains for smartphones, vehicles and different keystones of contemporary life.

“TSMC and those semiconductor guys, they don’t feel any of this at all,” said Tian Shou-shi, 63, a rice grower in Hsinchu. “We farmers just want to be able to make an honest living.”

In an interview, the deputy director of Taiwan’s Water Resources Agency, Wang Yi-feng, defended the government’s policies, saying the dry spell meant that harvests would be bad even with access to irrigation. Diverting scarce water to farms instead of factories and homes would be “lose-lose,” he said.

Mr. Chuang’s business partner on his farm in Hsinchu, Kuo Yu-ling, does not like demonizing the chip industry.

“If Hsinchu Science Park weren’t developed like it is today, we wouldn’t be in business, either,” said Ms. Kuo, 32, referring to the city’s main industrial zone. TSMC engineers are important customers for their rice, she said.

But it is also wrong, Ms. Kuo said, to accuse farmers of guzzling water while contributing little economically.

“Can’t we take a fair and accurate accounting of how much water farms use and how much water industry uses and not stigmatize agriculture all the time?” she said.

The “biggest problem” behind Taiwan’s water woes is that the government keeps water tariffs too low, said Wang Hsiao-wen, a professor of hydraulic engineering at National Cheng Kung University. This encourages waste.

In farming towns near Tainan, many growers said they were content to be living on the government’s dime, at least for now. They clear the weeds from their fallowed fields. They drink tea with friends and go on long bike rides.

But they are also reckoning with their futures. The Taiwanese public appears to have decided that rice farming is less important, both for the island and the world, than semiconductors. The heavens — or larger economic forces, at least — seem to be telling the farmers it is time to find other work.

“Fertilizer is getting more expensive. Pesticide is getting more expensive,” said Hsieh Tsai-shan, 74, a rice grower. “Being a farmer is truly the worst.”

Serene farmland surrounds the village of Jingliao, which became a popular tourist spot after appearing in a documentary about farmers’ changing lives.

There is only one cow left in town. It spends its days pulling visitors, not plowing fields.

“Around here, 70 counts as young,” said Yang Kuei-chuan, 69, a rice farmer.

Both of Mr. Yang’s sons work for industrial companies.

“If Taiwan didn’t have any industry and relied on agriculture, we all might have starved to death by now,” Mr. Yang said.



Source link Nytimes.com

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