The Role of Agritourism in Taiwan's Rural Revitalization Strategy

The Role of Agritourism in Taiwan's Rural Revitalization Strategy

Published: 2023.10.20
Accepted: 2023.10.17
36
Distinguished Professor
International Master Program of Agriculture, National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan
International Master’s Program of Agriculture 2017–2019, National Chung Hsing University

ABSTRACT

Taiwan’s government has prioritized rural revitalization in an attempt to combat the challenges associated with an aging population, and in that process rural agritourism has been embraced as part of this strategy. The aging population problem in Taiwan has led to increased levels of migration to urban areas in search of employment, reduced quality of living, and a shortage of workers for the existing industries in these regions. Agritourism has been seen as crucial in this revitalization strategy. Here, we briefly examine the Taiwan government’s strategy in promoting agritourism. We provide a list of the agritourism farms throughout the country that are participating in this policy. Moreover, at first glance, the contribution of Taiwan’s agricultural sector to overall GDP appears to be relatively small. However, after considering a value chain approach within the context of agritourism, the potential of agriculture in boosting its contribution to GDP appears to be substantially more.

Keywords: Taiwan, Rural revitalization, Agritourism, Agricultural value chains, Aging population

INTRODUCTION

Agritourism is a vital industry in Taiwan, and Taiwan’s government has looked toward this sector in its attempt to revitalize rural areas suffering from the aging population crisis. Taiwan in 2018 embarked on a rural revitalization strategy that sought to address the challenges associated with its aging population and excessive migration to cities. The plan was referred to as the National Strategic Plan for Regional Revitalization (National Development Council [NDC], 2018). Agritourism has been incorporated as a crucial approach in response to the crisis facing the rural areas in Taiwan. Regional revitalization is the term being used by policymakers in Taiwan to describe this project.

This policy was undertaken to address the aging population crisis in Taiwan. Life expectancy at birth increased from 53.4 years for males and 56.3 years for females in 1951 to 77.7 years and 84.3 years in 2021, respectively (MOI, 2022). In Taiwan, the number of children born per woman dropped precipitously from seven births in 1951 to 0.975 births in 2021. Moreover, the percentage of the population aged above 65 grew from 2.5% in the 1950s to 17.56% in 2021 (Chen, 2023). 

While the program was inspired by the severe challenges the country is encountering due to its aging population problem, these problems are multifaceted. They include migration from rural regions to major cities like Taipei, resulting in a population imbalance. Often, this means that the smaller population in these rural regions does not provide the critical mass of labor to make industry in these places feasible. It also often means that the population left behind are older residents of retirement age who no longer work (NDC, 2018). This results in an economic burden for people of working age, who have to support them since the working age population is relatively smaller. The high level of emigration away from rural areas into cities is driven by a lack of job opportunities in rural areas and more attractive job prospects in major urban areas; moreover, compared to urban areas, rural areas lack modern infrastructure and amenities (NDC, 2018). Taiwan’s policymakers have formulated several strategies to solve this crisis, and agritourism policies stand out among those policies.

TAIWAN’S RURAL REVITALIZATION PROGRAM

Taiwan’s rural revitalization program seeks to prioritize regions that disproportionately suffer from the aging population problem and net youth migration to major city centers such as Taipei. The regions that have been emphasized are located primarily in central, southern, and eastern Taiwan. In all, they account for a little over 66% of the national land area but with a combined population that makes up about 11% of the national population (NDC, 2018). The communities that stand to benefit from this revitalization program have been classified into three categories: 1) Farming, mountain, and fishing villages; 2) Intermediate townships; and 3) Indigenous people areas.

The first category—Farming, mountain, and fishing villages—includes 62 townships/urban areas located primarily in mountains and coastal regions. Despite an abundance of farming and fishery resources, the working population in these areas is not large enough, which makes it difficult to develop industry there. The program hopes to encourage youth to return to these regions to start businesses and participate in pushing local agriculture into the sixth sector, in addition to improving external transportation links, strengthening infrastructure meant to cater to seniors, and making complete local basic services and facilities for daily living.

The second category is intermediate townships and includes 24 townships. These communities are located between urban areas and mountains, farming, and fishing villages in central and southern Taiwan. However, these regions' residential infrastructure and industry are in severe need of repair and development. The NDC intends to provide more modern services and facilities to the region, connect cities to farms, mountains and fishing villages (or indigenous areas) activate existing old blocks, and support and promote local businesses.

The third group includes indigenous people areas and includes 48 townships, with disproportionately large indigenous populations. They account for nearly 90% of all indigenous areas and are primarily located in the Central Mountain Range and in Eastern Taiwan. Development in these areas suffers from multiple restrictions on land development. Public service availability is also poor, while youth unemployment is quite high. The policy seeks to assist by promoting local employment and business startups and improving the availability of public services.

The implementation strategy for rural revitalization includes: 1) encouraging enterprises to invest in local areas; 2) introducing technology to integrate with government services and local business operations; 3) investing in infrastructure; and 4) providing financial support in the form of subsidies. An essential part of the revitalization strategy includes reviving the agriculture industry in these rural areas.

AGRITOURISM IN TAIWAN

Agritourism in Taiwan is a promising industry supported by the country’s large and dense urban populations, who often use agritourism farms as a break from the busyness of Taiwan’s large cities and an opportunity to interact with farm animals and engage in agricultural activity, such as fruit picking (Liang et al., 2021). Agritourism has been defined as a type of commercial enterprise that connects agricultural activities with tourism to bring visitors to a farm or other agrarian environment to entertain or educate visitors while earning income for the farm enterprise (Philip et al., 2010). Agritourism is a vibrant industry in Taiwan. The Council of Agriculture (COA, 2021), as of 2020 granted licenses to 486 leisure farms throughout Taiwan. Table 1 provides a cross-section of a list of agribusiness enterprises as listed by the Taiwan Leisure Farm Development Association (TLFDA).

Table 1. List of agritourism businesses supported by Taiwan’s government

Agritourism enterprise type

Farm name

Farm location

Farm size

Year of establishment

Activities

Farm

 

Toucheng Leisure Farm

Yilan County

>120 ha

1979

Rice culture exhibition; orchids, DIY fruit-processing

Sanfu Leisure Farm

Yilan County

14 ha

1989

Pomelo cultivation;  pomelo byproducts

Lucky Time Leisure Farm

Taoyuan County

1.5 ha

 

2011

Rice-farming

Chienhu Chuanchi Ecological Farm

New Taipei City

10 ha

1987

Ecological fish farm

Mei-Jia Tea Garden

Taipei City

2.5 ha

1987

Tea farm

Forestry

Bamboo Culture Park

Nantou

1.92 ha

1997

Bamboo farm and living museum

Dakeng Leisure Farm

Tainan city 

10.62 ha

1989

Chicken farm; Formosan Silka deer farm

Forest 18 Leisure Farm

Nantou County

1.3 ha

1999

Eucalyptus farm

Long Yun Farm

Chiayi County

400 ha

2001

Bamboo shoots and tea farm

Wuhxiu Leisure Farm

Nantou County

>10 ha

2005

Bamboo and tea farm

Fishery

Li Chuan Aquafarm

Hualien County

104 ha

1971

Freshwater clam farm

Haha Fish

Changhua County

50 ha

2009

Beach seining, shrimp catching, and clam digging

Xiang He Leisure Fish Farm

Chiayi County

100 ha

2008

Fish farm

Shuei Yue Leisure Blue Whale Fish Hut

Hsinchu

481 ha

2008

Industrial-style fish farm

Orz Shrimp Club

Yunlin County

1 ha

2015

Fish farm

Husbandry

Flying Cow Ranch

Miaoli County

120 ha

1975

Cow ranch

Tainan Duck Leisure Farm

Tainan City

3 ha

2007

Duck farm

Nong Chun Chen Ecological Education Farm

Kaohsiung City

5 ha

2000

Educational chicken plus butterfly farm

Honey Museum

Yunlin County

4.62 ha

 

2006

Bee farm and museum

Hwayi Leisure Farm

Kaohsiung

2.5 ha

2014

Demonstration goat ranch

Source: Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association ( https://eng.gogo-taiwanfarm.org/about).

Agritourism in Taiwan is an old industry, with one of the oldest farms being established as far back as 1979. Leisure farms in Taiwan come in a wide variety and offer diverse activities. These include fish farms, fruit orchard farms, animal ranches, bee farms, tea farms, living farm museums, and so on. Some of them are quite large, such as the Long Yun Farm, which measures up to 400 ha, whereas others are smaller and are typical of Taiwan’s family farms at less than 2 ha, such as the Forest 18 Leisure Farm. According to Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture (COA, 2021), as of 2019, there were 27.8 million tourist journeys to rural and leisure travel destinations, with 77,000 being foreign tourists. In addition, the production value of these travels amounted to NT$10.9 billion (or just over $341 million).

THE ROLE OF AGRITOURISM IN RURAL DEVELOPMENT

Agritourism has been seen as a key cornerstone in alternative agriculture. In addition, it has been associated with sustainable development strategies and values, such as value-added production, directly marketing farm produce, and supporting rural development and small farmers (Holland et al., 2022; Joo et al., 2013). The literature has documented a host of reasons for farmers adopting agritourism. These include: 1) increased support for green and sustainable development initiatives (Pratt et al., 2022); 2) farmers’ need for greater diversification and the stability that comes with it (McGehee & Kim, 2004); and 3) a greater desire to support local rural communities through increased employment and income flows into local economies (Bhatta et al., 2019). The literature has shown that agritourism has been successful in remedying some of the challenges faced by small farmers. These include increasing farmers’ household incomes (Jȩczmyk et al., 2015), making small farms more economically viable (Schilling et al., 2012), preserving ethno-culinary heritage, and promoting sustainability (Pehin Dato Musa, 2022).

Agriculture in East Asian countries (i.e., South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and China) has unique challenges and characteristics compared to Western states. Farming in these countries is often dominated by small family farms and smallholders, and often the size of farms ranges from 1-3 ha, as in the case of Japan (USDA, 2020; COA, n.d.). These countries also face similar problems, such as the declining importance of agriculture to the national economy and shortages in farm labor due to rural emigration and the aging population phenomenon (Puchala & Staveley, 2019). However, ironically, the increased urbanization and industrialization that are directly and indirectly responsible for these challenges also offer new opportunities in the form of Agritourism. Heavily urbanized populations in East Asian countries represent a large market for agritourism destinations, and increasingly, East Asian policymakers are recognizing agritourism’s potential to bolster agriculture and revive farmers’ incomes (Awan et al., 2016; Chang, 2011; Hiramatsu, 2023).

While there are a few large commercial agritourism enterprises in Taiwan, the small family farm remains the dominant farm model in the country, and the average farm size in Taiwan is approximately 1-2 ha (COA, n.d.). Family farms due to the unique challenges they face in Taiwan need to develop strategies to diversify their incomes and make the farming profession attractive to the next generation. Taiwan policymakers have embraced the potential of agritourism in meeting these challenges.

ADDING VALUE THROUGH AGRITOURISM

Taiwan’s approach to agritourism has incorporated elements of social enterprise and the sixth sector (COA, 2021). Social enterprises generally refer to a set of organizations and businesses that seek to combine the values and goals of the non-profit sector with the market motives of the for-profit sector (Mair, 2006). Social enterprises attempt to address social and environmental challenges while making profits. Research has shown that social enterprises can play a role in supporting rural development in the context of pro-poor tourism (Zeng, 2018). The sixth industrialization, as explained by Imamura (1998), describes linking agriculture, food-processing industries, and retail to provide value-added new products or services that rely on primary agricultural production. Taiwan’s COA has prioritized the concept of the sixth industry. This includes making linkages between food production, the restaurant industry, and other community-based cottage industries (COA, 2021).

Research has already shown that agritourism can increase farm incomes and the likelihood of younger family members carrying on farming as a profession (Chang et al., 2019). In addition, it must be said that agriculture’s contribution to the overall economy has been reduced in Taiwan and most other developing countries in terms of production. However, the extra-economic role of agriculture is becoming increasingly recognized and appreciated. These include environmental sustainability, food security, and providing green and picturesque landscapes.

Huang et al., (2022) indicated how Taiwan’s agriculture benefited from integration with tourism through a value-added and linkage approach. They demonstrated that considering its contribution along the value chain, the agriculture sector would account for nearly 10.56%–11.85% of GDP, compared to official agricultural production value, which has been recorded as 1.65%–1.87% of GDP.  Figure 1 also shows the GDP contribution in terms of the percentage of agriculture according to Taiwan’s COA. It declined from 2012 (i.e., 7.4%) to 2021 (i.e., 1.6%).

 

 

AGRITOURISM POLICIES IN TAIWAN

To implement its rural revitalization program, Taiwan’s government has implemented several policies. These policies relate to objectives such as 1) regularizing and upgrading the leisure farm industry, 2) developing experiential niche agricultural activities, 3) marketing agritourism to tourists abroad, 4) increasing tourist numbers to local areas, and 5) providing subsidies to support agribusiness enterprises.

 

Table 2 provides a list of initiatives undertaken by the COA in its latest rural revitalization strategy. The organization has prioritized marketing, PR, and the creation of several hundred rural social enterprises to promote agritourism in Taiwan.

Table 2. A list of policies implemented by the COA for local community-based agritourism

Objectives

Policies implemented by the COA

Regularizing and upgrading the recreational farm industry

  • Awarded licenses to 486 leisure farms by the end of 2020
  • Designated 96 “recreational agriculture areas”
  • Implemented a system to evaluate and score leisure farms

Developing experiential niche agricultural activities

  • Guided the establishment of 114 Tian Mama’s cuisine units to link tourism to the local food industry
  • Selected 30 rural souvenir and special agricultural products to differentiate and “localize”agro-tourism destinations.
  • Created 69 themed travel itineraries (e.g., seafood, flowers, rural kitchen, etc.)
  • Developed “fruit travel” tours that coordinated tourist trips with locales famous for certain fruits when in season

Marketing agritourism to for tourists abroad

  • Provided modern websites in multiple languages (English, Chinese, and Japanese) to promote agritourism: (ezgo.coa.gov.tw)
  • Targeted New Southbound Policy partner countries, such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, etc.
  • Catering to the taste, food, and cultural requirements of Muslim visitors

Increasing tourist numbers to local areas

  • Marketed agritourism destinations to both locals and foreigners (27.8 million tourist journeys to rural leisure areas).
  • Promoted 283 ticket packages for independent travelers

Providing subsidies to support agribusiness enterprises

80 firms received NT$104 to 127 million in investment as of 2017

Taiwan’s policymakers have made agritourism an essential part of their rural revitalization strategies. Taiwan’s National Development Council (NDC) plans to reform regulations around land use in relation to tourism. Currently, farmers and indigenous villages are not allowed to market and sell trips themselves, which, according to the NDC, “limits their development” (NDC, 2018). The NDC is currently pursuing discussions to amend this legislation. Moreover, agritourism-related revitalization programs include “Tourism 2020—Taiwan’s Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy—Program for Building an Experiential Tourism Environment.”

Tourism 2020 seeks to capitalize on the growing importance of globalization, digitalization, and localization in tourism. It targets mainly regional and local tourism markets, including Taiwanese tourists, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The strategy seeks to develop smart tourism, promote experiential tourism, expand, and diversify markets, and boost domestic tourism. The localization theme lends itself to supporting rural revitalization, as it relies on the local resources and culture of rural communities. With agriculture being crucial to these rural communities, agritourism would appear to be an effective approach to help alleviate the crises facing Taiwan’s rural areas.

REFERENCES

Awan, S. A., Saeed, A. F., & Zhuang, P. (2016). The prospects of agritourism development in China. Prospects, 7(5).

Bhatta, K., Itagaki, K., & Ohe, Y. (2019). Determinant factors of farmers’ willingness to start agritourism in rural Nepal. Open Agriculture, 4(1), 431-445.

Chang, T. C. (2003). Development of leisure farms in Taiwan, and perceptions of visitors thereto. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 15(1), 19-40.

Chang, J. C. (2011). The role of tourism in sustainable rural development: A multiple case study in rural Taiwan (Doctoral dissertation, University of Birmingham).

Chang, H. H., Mishra, A. K., & Lee, T. H. (2019). A supply‐side analysis of agritourism: Evidence from farm‐level agriculture census data in Taiwan. Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 63(3), 521-548.

Chen, C. H. (2023). Taiwan’s Rapidly Aging Population: A Crisis in the Making?. Munich Personal RePEc Archive.

Chen, M. W., Tu, H. M., & Tung, C. H. (2022). From Chinese tourists to Taiwanese campers: Impacts of tourism policies on campsite land use/cover change. Journal of Environmental Management, 310, 114749.

Council of Agriculture [COA]. (n.d.) Overview. COA. https://eng.moa.gov.tw.

De Castris, M., & Di Gennaro, D. (2020). Do Rural Development Policies enhance performance of agritourism farms in Italy? In Agritourism, Wine Tourism, and Craft Beer Tourism (pp. 31-51). Routledge.

EZGO. https://ezgo.coa.gov.tw/zh-EN/Front/AgriTheme/Index/?ByMainType=27&BySubType=17

Hiramatsu, T. (2023). Increase in inbound tourists and long-term decline of rural economy in Japan: A multi-regional computable general equilibrium analysis. Review of Regional Studies, 53(1), 100-125.

Holland, R., Khanal, A. R., & Dhungana, P. (2022). Agritourism as an alternative on-farm enterprise for small us farms: Examining factors influencing the agritourism decisions of small farms. Sustainability, 14(7), 4055.

Huang, W. H., Hsu, S. M., Lin, H. C., Dy, K. B., Chang, C. C., & Hsu, S. H. (2022). The value-added and linkage effect analysis of Taiwan’s agricultural sector. Modern Economy, 13(1), 79-97.

Imamura, N. (1998). Sixth Industrialization for Aquaculture to Create Additional Values. 21 Seiki Murazukurijyuku, 1-28.

Jȩczmyk, A., Uglis, J., Graja-Zwolińska, S., Maćkowiak, M., Spychała, A., & Sikora, J. (2015). Research note: Economic benefits of agritourism development in Poland—An empirical study. Tourism Economics, 21(5), 1120-1126.

Joo, H., Khanal, A. R., & Mishra, A. K. (2013). Farmers’ participation in agritourism: Does it affect the bottom line?. Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, 42(3), 471-490.

Kuo, N. W., & Chiu, Y. T. (2006). The assessment of agritourism policy based on SEA combination with HIA. Land Use Policy, 23(4), 560-570. [effects of policy]

Liang, A. R. D., Hsiao, T. Y., Chen, D. J., & Lin, J. H. (2021). Agritourism: Experience design, activities, and revisit intention. Tourism Review, 76(5), 1181-1196.

Liu, C. C., Lee, C. T., Guo, Y. F., Chiu, K. N., & Wang, T. Y. (2022). The Study of Sustainable Rural Development in Taiwan—A Perspective of Causality Relationship. Agriculture, 12(2), 252.

Liu, T-H. (September 30, 2020). Indigenous industries receive NT $435 m in new subsidy program. https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2022/09/30/2003786182

Mair, J. (2006). Exploring the Intentions and Opportunities Behind Social Entrepreneurship. In M. Johanna, R. Jeffrey & H. Kai (Eds.), Social Entrepreneurship (pp. 89–94). Palgrave Macmillan.

McGehee, N. G., & Kim, K. (2004). Motivation for agritourism entrepreneurship. Journal of Travel Research, 43(2), 161-170.

National Development Council (NDC) (2018). National Strategic Plan for Regional Revitalization. NDC. https://www.ndc.gov.tw/en/Content_List.aspx?n=584DA2E7E395367B

Phillip, S., Hunter, C., & Blackstock, K. (2010). A typology for defining agritourism. Tourism Management, 31(6), 754-758.

Pratt, S., Magbalot‐Fernandez, A., & Ohe, Y. (2022). Motivations and constraints of developing agritourism under the challenges of climate change: The case of Samoa. International Journal of Tourism Research, 24(4), 610-622.

Puchala, D. J., & Staveley, J. (2019). The political economy of Taiwanese agricultural development. In Food, Politics, And Agricultural Development (pp. 107-131). Routledge.

Schilling, B. J., Sullivan, K. P., & Komar, S. J. (2012). Examining the economic benefits of agritourism: The case of New Jersey. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 3(1), 199-214.

United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service. (May 19, 2020). Number of women farmers in Japan continues to decline. USDA.

Wan-Yu Liu. (2019). A New Chapter in Taiwan’s Agriculture. https://ap.fftc.org.tw/article/639

Zeng, B. (2018). How can social enterprises contribute to sustainable pro-poor tourism development? Chinese Journal of Population Resources and Environment, 16(2), 159-170.

Comment