The Agricultural Workforce Development Policies and Collaborative Models in Taiwan

The Agricultural Workforce Development Policies and Collaborative Models in Taiwan

Published: 2022.11.07
Accepted: 2022.11.03
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Associate Researcher
Agricultural Policy Research Center, Agricultural Technology Research Institute, Taipei, Taiwan
Junior Researcher
Agricultural Policy Research Center, Agricultural Technology Research Institute, Taipei, Taiwan
Research Assistant
Agricultural Policy Research Center, Agricultural Technology Research Institute, Taipei, Taiwan
Officer
Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan, Taipei, Taiwan
Senior Researcher
Agricultural Technology Research Institute, Taipei, Taiwan

ABSTRACT

In response to the shortage and aging of the agricultural workforce in recent years, the Council of Agriculture (COA), Taiwan has promoted several measures, such as the establishment of a special unit for agricultural human resources management, the development of diversified human resources, and the improvement of the employment environment at the farms, to increase the willingness of young people to work in the agricultural sector. Diversified human resources include the establishment of different types of agricultural human resource teams and the development of different collaborative operation modes to address the long-term and seasonal labor shortage. The COA also promoted the development of shared mechanized and automated farming modes as the long-term objective and the gradual development of labor-saving equipment and mechanical farming teams. This report describes the various types of human resource teams currently in development and investigates these modes of human resource collaboration, with the hope that this will serve as a foundation for the future development of more diverse agricultural operation collaboration models that can meet the needs of each region, improve the agricultural employment environment, and stabilize the growth of Taiwan’s agricultural human resources.

Keywords: agricultural human resource, collaborative model, mechanization, labor-saving machine

INTRODUCTION

As a result of the transition of Taiwan's industrial structure as a whole, human resources are migrating from rural to urban regions, the rural population is dwindling, and the structure is steadily aging. According to pertinent statistics from the Council of Agriculture (COA), the number of people engaged in agriculture, forestry, fishery, and animal husbandry in Taiwan has decreased from approximately 1.3 million in the 1980s to approximately 542,000 in 2021 (COA, 2022), and the age structure of the farming population is aging more rapidly due to the large outflow of young people, with the proportion of people under 44 years old engaged in farming decreasing from approximately 60% in 2005 to 50% in 2020.

Analyzing the reasons for the aging of Taiwan's agricultural workforce, two major factors are identified: the low willingness of young people to engage in agriculture and the delayed retirement of the elder farming population. The factors to low willingness of Taiwan's young people to join the agricultural sector includes:

  • Relatively lower income than other industries in Taiwan;
  • Poor working environment and conditions; and
  • The general public's negative impression of the farm work.

According to the survey of Family Income and Expenditure in Taiwan, the average income of farm household in 2021 is approximately US$34,375, while the average income of non-farm households is about US$41,563 (National Statistics, 2022). Moreover, the average farm size in Taiwan is less than 1 hectare, which illustrates the vast challenge of farm management in Taiwan. If the income difference between farming and other jobs cannot be narrowed, it will be challenging to recruit young Taiwanese into the agricultural sector.

Long and inconsistent work hours and poor labor protection are typical dilemmas in agricultural jobs. Due to industrial characteristics, it's hard for crop cultivation or animal husbandry work to comply with the working time regulations of Taiwan's labor law. Because most agricultural operations are predominantly outdoor, farmers usually choose early morning or late afternoon to conduct field operations to avoid sun-related health risks. In addition, the magnitude of agricultural labor varies substantially according to the busy or slack farming seasons. Consequently, the conditions of working hours are frequently interrupted, weekend vacations are difficult to take, and working times fluctuate throughout the year. These conditions have become normal in farming work.

According to their occupations, workers in Taiwan should join social insurance, such as labor insurance, farmer's health insurance, and public employee insurance. The farmer has to own or lease certain scale of land to qualify for the farmer's health insurance. However, many actual agricultural workers are hired by the farm managers and which make the workers not eligible to join the farmer health insurance; therefore, they must enter labor insurance to obtain labor security and social welfare. Due to Taiwan's Labor Insurance Act, registered farms or agricultural enterprises that hire more than five employees can be the insurance applier. Still, most farms in Taiwan don't fit this qualification, so the agricultural workers have to join the insurance through craft unions instead of agricultural enterprises or farms. Generally speaking, the workers insured by the craft unions must pay 60% of the premium by themselves. In contrast, those insured by a farm or enterprise only need to pay 30% of the premium. Therefore, farm workers with the same income and joining the labor insurance through different organizations would pay different premiums. From the above description, the instability of social insurance in agricultural work has also become a significant factor in reducing the willingness to get into this sector.

In light of the abovementioned concerns, Taiwan's agriculture sector struggles with a labor shortage and an aging population. In recent years, the COA has actively promoted various measures to solve the problem of agricultural human resources shortage. In addition to establishing the Agricultural Human Resources Development Office as a special unit to coordinate policies and affairs related to improving agricultural labor shortages. Since 2017, the COA has promoted the "Measures to Improve Seasonal Labor Shortages in Agriculture," which partners with farmers' associations to conduct various types of agricultural workforce teams based on the situations of labor shortages and labor needs in each region. In the same year, the COA also initiated the "Agricultural Labor Workforce Survey" to conduct a more in-depth survey and better understand the status of Taiwan's agricultural labor force, which serves as essential reference data for the subsequent development of various policies (Liu et al., 2018). In addition, the COA has been promoting foreign labor force-related projects in agriculture since 2020. And in 2021, the COA held a mechanical farming team intending to reduce the lack of agricultural labor force in Taiwan through the expansion of domestic and foreign agricultural labor force, as well as intelligent and automated farming models, and enhancing the overall employment environment in Taiwan's agriculture. Following is an explanation of Taiwan's agricultural labor force policy, the present status of agricultural human resources teams, and developments since then.

TAIWAN'S AGRICULTURAL WORKFORCE POLICIES AND MEASURES

In the past, the COA collaborated with the Ministry of Labor to promote policies such as agricultural service teams and agricultural vocational training, offering agricultural vocational training and agriculturally-related employment opportunities to the unemployed through the Ministry of Labor's system. In the past, six counties and cities participated in the "Pilot Program to Encourage Nationals to Engage in Agriculture," which offered a monthly incentive of NT$8,800 and attracted over 300 jobless individuals to work in agriculture-related positions (Liu et al., 2020).

In order to continue promoting the revitalization of the rural labor force, the Council of Agriculture has implemented a rural labor force revitalization program; in 2016, it provided guidance to 50 farmers' associations to promote the agricultural labor dispatch platform and recruit existing rural labor force to form agricultural service teams; and collaborated with schools to provide university and high school students with opportunities to explore the career path.

Since the loss and aging of the agricultural labor force in Taiwan is an environmental and systemic long-term development issue, the COA launched the "New Agricultural Innovation Policy Promotion Program" in 2016 (COA, 2016), which has formulated several policy measures for the agricultural labor force issue, such as addressing the lack of agricultural workers and cultivating new farmers. The adopted strategies include the establishment of the Agricultural Technical Teams and other agricultural human resources teams, the establishment of the Agricultural Labor Force Development Office to address the labor shortage problem in agriculture, the establishment of publicly funded agricultural classes for industrial talents to train new farmers, and the provision of agricultural jobs for the Ministry of Labor to establish youth education and employment programs. In addition, the COA promotes the development and application of labor-saving and energy-saving automatic/intelligent machinery and equipment in the area of technological innovation, with the goal of reducing the demand for human labor through the implementation of labor-saving machinery and equipment, facilities, and precise workflow.

The "New Farmers Cultivation Program" was also proposed by the COA at the end of 2016, with the expectation that through long-term systematic planning and promotion of policies and measures, it can solve the problem of agricultural labor force development in Taiwan. Following is a description of "Measures to Improve Seasonal Labor Shortages in Agriculture," which pertains most directly to Taiwan's agricultural labor force.

MEASURES TO IMPROVE SEASONAL LABOR SHORTAGES IN AGRICULTURE

Agricultural work includes regular works (at a vegetable farm) throughout the year or seasonal works (at a fruit farm) due to peak agricultural production seasons. Among them, year-round recurring occupations are more reliable and stable, and most employers can provide their employees with labor and health insurance benefits. However, seasonal employment primarily comprises short-term positions, which are less reliable for employees and make it difficult for some operators in Taiwan's agriculture sector to get the necessary workforce instantly. Therefore, the COA promotes "Measures to Improve Seasonal Shortage of Agricultural Workers" to increase the short-term agricultural labor force sources and reinvigorate Taiwan's rural labor resources. The models of this measure consist of the Agricultural Technical Teams, the Agricultural Farming Teams, the Particular Industry Teams, the Mechanical Farming Teams, and the Labor Revitalization Teams.

The agricultural technical team system selects young people (under 45 years old and who have experience in farming would be better) interested in farming work and hires them as employees of the local farmer associations after providing them with agriculture-specific training. And the young people employed by the local farmer association would have full-time jobs, stable incomes (more than US$1,250/month), and the labor insurance system benefits. For instance, in the case of the new farming teams, local farmer associations aggressively extend new sources of the labor force by recruiting existing rural labor force to join new farming teams, and provide the labor and health insurance benefits to agricultural laborers to assist with routine farm work. Due to the specific needs of some particular industries, specialized industrial teams are created for some labor-intensive industries (such as mushroom, livestock, guava, and facility teams) to address the long-term labor shortage in those industries.

Moreover, in accordance with the promotion of mechanization, automation, and smart agriculture, Taiwan has formed mechanical farming teams to supply farm services through the provision of professional labor and agricultural machinery in order to improve the efficiency of Taiwan's agricultural operations and decrease the need for a labor force. In addition, there is an increase in agricultural activity (harvesting, etc.) during certain seasons in Taiwan’s agricultural economy. Taiwan’s government has established programs such as labor force revitalization teams, holiday farmers, and farm internship jobs to satisfy the demand for agricultural personnel in the country, with the intention of alleviating some of the country's short-term agricultural labor force shortfall.  

THE EXISTING SYSTEM OF AGRICULTURAL HUMAN RESOURCE TEAMS IN TAIWAN

In the first phase of the pilot program, only three teams were launched in Pingtung County and Kaohsiung City of southern Taiwan. In response to the demands of different regions, the number of teams steadily increased to 13 by the end of 2018. In addition, the COA has changed the agricultural service teams established by the Ministry of Labor into new agricultural teams to help in general farming work. In 2018, in response to the demands of industries and regions, in addition to increasing the number of technical teams and new farming teams, particular industry teams, mechanical farming teams, and labor force revitalization teams were launched. 2021 sees the transformation of the teams into part-time labor force support to adapt to the features and demands of various locations. In addition, to raise the level of agricultural automation and mechanization to minimize the need for labor, ten mechanical farming teams have been launched in 2021, and each team has a unique system design based on its establishment purpose. In the research to this measure, it was found that those under 55 years old made up 67% of the total number of participants, with an average age of 46.15 years old and a median age of 46 years old (Liu et al., 2021).

Stabilization of labor force

Agricultural technical teams

The primary objective of the Agricultural Technical Teams in Taiwan is to fulfill the seasonal technical work requirements. Therefore, the Agricultural Technical Teams members must be able to perform the higher-level technical work required in agriculture. After being hired, the members of this type of team will first undergo a 10-day training in agricultural technology to gain a certain level of understanding of crop management and agricultural technology and will then be dispatched to different farms upon the application of local farms.

Since the south-central and eastern regions are the important fruit production regions in Taiwan, the field management of fruit trees requires a lot of cultivation skills, such as grafting, pollination, and pruning, all of which require a high level of technical expertise. Consequently, this type of labor force team is primarily established in these regions. According to the data at the end of 2021, agricultural technical teams were mostly located in Taiwan's central, southern, and eastern regions, with a total of 14 teams employing around 534 individuals (3 in the central area, 8 in the southern region, and 3 in the eastern region).

The COA’s District Agricultural Research and Extension Stations (DARESs) (training planners and implementers), dispatching farmers' associations and cooperating farmers' associations (the primary operators of agricultural technical teams), and farm owners are the primary participants in the agricultural technical team model (demand proponents). After hiring the agricultural workers of the agricultural technical team, the DARES in each area assist the farmers' associations in providing pre-service training before deploying them to the different farms. Due to the emphasis on addressing the farms' short-term labor demands, these workers are dispatched to each farm for less than three months. Farmers who employ agricultural workers are required to remit their salaries to a payroll account established by the farmers' association, which verifies and confirms the accuracy of the fees at the end of each month before remitting the appropriate government incentives (including a US$275 employment incentive and a transportation allowance) to each agricultural worker. This measure also dramatically enhances farm workers' wages and strengthens their labor rights protections.

Agriculture new farming teams

The Agricultural New Farming Teams are established to supply the regional agricultural labor for routine farm works. Local farmers' associations recruit individuals interested in agriculture to enter the farms and assist with general farming tasks. Each team recruits around 20 to 35 farmers and deploys them based on local labor shortages, crop varieties, agricultural demands, and job types. The organization provides flexible agricultural labor through a regional deployment strategy, therefore amassing different farming expertise among farmers. Since farming teams are primarily concerned with assisting in less technical farm work, after recruiting staff, although they are also hired and assigned by the dispatching farmer's association, they do not undergo ten days of pre-employment training. Most agricultural new farming teams are located in the northern and central regions to prevent competition between different types of labor force teams. At the end of 2021, 15 teams employed around 403 people (11 in the central region, 3 in the northern region, and 1 in the eastern region).

Particular industry teams

In order to meet the unique labor requirements of various sectors, the COA has established particular industry teams to handle the features of each business. Through widespread recruiting, steady wage security, and protection of labor rights, these teams attracted those interested in agricultural employment to join these businesses. By the end of 2021, there were a total of four particular industry teams in the business, employing roughly 165 individuals.

Mechanical farming teams

As Taiwan will soon enter a hyper-aged society, the lack of labor force in various industries will become increasingly serious in the future. Therefore, in addition to setting up agricultural labor force teams to provide a stable regional agricultural labor force, it is also necessary to apply labor-saving agricultural machinery to reduce labor force requirements. Using the different models to adjust industrial farming patterns and habits gradually and further adjust the industrial structure to reduce the demand for the agricultural labor force.

In July 2018, the COA established the Taoyuan Agricultural Machinery Farming Team through the cooperative established by the local youth farmers in Taoyuan City to provide agricultural services for mechanical farming of rice, tea, mixed grains, and vegetables in Taoyuan City, Yunlin County, and other areas. Later, the COA also assist the local farmer cooperatives in setting up mechanical farming teams in Kaohsiung City, Changhua County, Taichung City, Yilan County, and Hualien County. These mechanical farming teams trained the recruited members on agricultural machinery operation and provided services for farmers, including the operation of large farm machinery and the spraying and fertilization drones. In addition, these teams have adopted a shared platform operation model and introduced an app service to integrate Taiwan's existing agricultural service system to provide farmers with more convenient mechanical plowing, spraying and fertilizing services, and to promote mechanized farming further and reduce the demand for labor force in industries that rely on labor force, such as tea and vegetables. By the end of 2021, seven mechanical farming teams were employing 113 people.

Temporary labor force

Labor force revitalization teams

The Labor Force Revitalization Teams assist local farmers on urgent and short-term work through labor matching services. The mode of operation is similar to the existing labor exchange model in rural areas, in which the housewife or individuals in other industries use their idle time to engage in farming for a short period, such as the planting and harvesting periods of various crops, in order to alleviate seasonal labor shortages. The Labor Force Revitalization Teams' members can earn a guaranteed payment from the farm owner and get some government incentives to increase their income. By the end of 2021, around 674 individuals had engaged in this project.

Holiday farmers

This project provided the chance to recruit citizens or corporate employees to join the farm work during the holidays, which shall help provide unskilled, hazard-free, and simple farming work.

Temporary student jobs

The students majoring in agriculture or those interested in agriculture are recruited to work on farms. These students are directed to work in agriculture through the model of the farm internship program, nurturing a new generation of agricultural workers in Taiwan through practical experience.

CONCLUSION

Since the measure implementation in 2017, the agricultural labor force team system has reached its fifth year. After several years of actual performance and industrial integration, with processes including changing the team models, revising the incentive measures, and revising the employment assessment and on-the-job training models are made to align the operation of agricultural labor force teams in each region with local requirements. In addition, because most agricultural employees in rural regions have been atypical workers, i.e., agricultural employment is characterized by inconsistent working hours and drastically variable working settings, some of the workers can only engage themselves in related work through odd jobs. Due to the prevalence of cash transactions for odd jobs and wages, the perception of agricultural work as a source of uncertain income and vulnerable employment security is exacerbated. The objective of the "Measures to Improve Seasonal Labor Shortages in Agriculture" is to improve the employment environment in agriculture, including insurance, basic salary, and on-the-job training, so that agricultural work has the same or better employment conditions as other industries, and to increase the willingness of young people who wish to remain in or return to their hometowns to work in agriculture. From the research on "Measures to Improve Seasonal Labor Shortages in Agriculture," it was found that the average age of participants is 46.15 years old (Liu et al., 2021). And this can be evidence that this measure can attract young people to join the agricultural sector.

As the model stabilizes, however, the COA will need to consider the drivers and possibilities of transferring the model to the private sector, such as the possibility of the existing deployment unit becoming a new business within the organization once the supporting project is finished. Another possibility is that the operators can provide the same income (including base salary and incentive payments) to the members of the human resources teams when they get into the free market.

In addition, if the existing dispatch units do not wish to continue their operations, it may be necessary to develop regional labor force dispatch centers in the future to provide guidance to important agricultural production areas, to guide the existing labor force teams members to become self-employed workers providing agricultural services, and to facilitate their continued enrollment in labor insurance.

In the past, it was thought that recruiting might be based on the tasks and objectives of the various types of agricultural human resources teams. During the program execution, it was discovered that, due to demographic disparities across areas, it may not be able to recruit adequate workers in some regions if stricter selection criteria are used. In addition, although agriculture in different regions of the country is partially focused on specific industries, the majority of crop types is quite diverse, so the work performed by agricultural masters and farmers may partially overlap, thereby weakening their identification in their respective capacities. In addition, the majority of labor force team members employ labor insurance to preserve their jobs, but only part-time workers are eligible for agriculture insurance status. In the future, if the regional agricultural labor force dispatch center performs job matching and dispatching, it may be necessary to employ agricultural workers with different types of insurance simultaneously in order to increase the efficiency of the regional labor supply and stabilize the labor income of agricultural workers.

REFERENCES

COA. (2022). Taiwan Agricultural Yearbook, Taiwan Area Number of People in Employment and in Agricultural Employment. online available at https://agrstat.coa.gov.tw/sdweb/public/book/Book.aspx, last access 10 October 2022.

COA. (2016). Agricultural News: New Agricultural Innovation Promotion Program, online available at https://www.coa.gov.tw/theme_data.php?theme=news&sub_theme=agri&id=6748, last access 10 October 2022.

National Statistics. (2022). Report on the survey of family income and expenditure 2021. Average family income and expenditure per household by farm or non-farm. online available at https://win.dgbas.gov.tw/fies/e11.asp?year=110, last access 10 October 2022.

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