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A Story about Juhu Ecological Park: Agriculture, Biodiversity and livelihoods

Authors: Lin Chau-Chin & Jennifer K


A Sense of Place

Taiwan is a mountainous island located in the subtropical zone in southeastern Asia. In the eastern part of Taiwan, the collision of two tectonic plates formed a beautiful valley known as Huadong valley. The collision also created the Coastal Mountain Range known as Hai-An Shan-Mai, meaning mountain-sea mount range. It is a mountain range situated on the eastern coast of the island and spans the border between Hualien and Taitung County. The Coastal Mountain Range is the northern portion of the Luzon Arc, but the volcano is no longer active. Its geology is mainly composed of a Miocene volcanic basement covered by a thick sedimentary pile of deep to shallow marine clastic deposits that are mostly derived from the adjacent Central Range Mountains in the west. The Coastal Mountain Range is a spectacular and stunning landscape that combines both the sea and mountain, a view rich in geological history and worth more than a thousand words.


Along the landscape are settlements of small villages where indigenous tribes and Han communities live together. One of these places is a small village called Juhu. Most people who live here are farmers. Among these farmers is Mr. Lai, a humble, funny, and hard-working farmer with a keen eye. Him and his wife Mei-Ju are not your everyday farmers. Their family and farm have become well-known in valuing nature and organic farming nationally in Taiwan. Not only have they been able to sustain their livelihoods based on farming, but also they have developed what can be considered agriculture-biodiversity conservation from their farming practices. In addition, the couple are the first citizens in the country who have dedicated themselves to the conservation of native oaks (Fagaceae) of Taiwan. They have made their farm demonstrate “a true sense” of Taiwan by reigniting oriental philosophies of nature and human-nature harmony. They also generously extend their happiness and joy to the people who know and interact with them on the farm. Visitors come from all over Taiwan as well as from abroad to fully explore the beauty and ecology of the farm, a unique experience that is different from other farms.


The story of this farm started with a common farmer applying his local ecological knowledge to manage an ecological farm. Mr. Lai and his wife then joined Long Term Ecological Research (LTER), a scientific program. This program is one of the stepping stones in contributing monitoring data on its oaks and crop damage to its large database. They hope that by being more involved in this way as well as their other services, they can improve the livelihoods of people around the village so that they may accomplish their dream of living in harmony with nature.


This is the story we want to tell people who love nature and desire a life that minimizes its negative impacts on the earth and gives back to both nature and society. We created a conceptual diagram to present the outline of the story.



Living in Harmony with Nature

Mr. Lai was born in and grew up in Juhu Village. He married a nurse, Mei-Ju, who loves to live remotely on a farm in the mountains and learns about nature from her husband. They took over the farm from their parents 20 years ago. The childhood experiences of Mr. Lai led him to build a strong foundation in traditional ecological knowledge. He has his own interpretations of ecological relationships and distinct traditions of resource management. Through his own traditional ecological knowledge, Mr. Lai has a cumulative body of knowledge, belief, and practices of his farm. The farming practice insists on growing only organic produce with more than 30 varieties of fruit (of which now only 3 fruits yield enough to sell). They harvest the fruits including all edible parts like flowers and roots as a food source to support their livelihood and create new food products. Mrs. Lai is very knowledgeable in how to make use of all plant parts in her cooking when she cooks for both the farm community and the farm’s guests.

Mr. Lai’s farming philosophy is to bring together the biodiversity of the land, continue farming on certain types of land, and maintain specific farming systems.

Today, the connectivity between Mr. Lai’s farming, biodiversity, and traditional landscape is very strong, as many of the lowland landscapes and habitats important for biodiversity in Taiwan were created by old practices with low-input. However, he tries not to operate on the margins of other agricultural land.


The major fruit tree of Juhu farm, lady finger banana.



Scientific Attachment

The traditional ecological knowledge of Mr. Lai’s farm is used to maintain resources necessary for survival. He knows that the methods of acquiring and collecting knowledge often include forms of empirical research and experimentation. It creates and validates scientific ecological knowledge from a sustainable future perspective.

Taiwan Agriculture Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program studies the ecology of intensive field crop ecosystems and its environmental consequences as part of Taiwan Ecological Research Network (TERN) established by the National Science Council in 1992. The Agriculture LTER is designed to answer the broader question of how agronomic management can better utilize biological resources in cropping systems to control pests, provide nitrogen, and build soil fertility. In short, how to make agriculture more profitable and provide environmental benefits. This scientific community heard of Mr. Lai’s farm and invited him to join the program in 2020. The farm has been visited by a scientific group and they discussed with the family the future scientific program, which includes monitoring plants, insects, animals, and soil biota. The concept of having the farm as part of an LTER site ties the preservation and value of diversity and wildlife in the countryside to the need to safeguard the continuation of farming in Juhu area. It also upholds the maintenance of specific farming systems in Taiwan associated with long-term management of natural areas in the East.

What joining LTER group means for the farm is that the farm will have a core team to draw in different institutions to be involved with the farm members and be geographically based around Juhu community. In addition, specialists will be invited to work on some detailed ecological profiles and investigate on specific necessary questions such as animal damages of crops.



Oaks

There are eight genera and 465 species of Fagaceae (oak family) identified in East Asia (including Taiwan). The distribution of oak species is divided into seven biogeographical areas. Studies have found that there are four genera and 45 species of oaks in Taiwan. Among these 45 species, 11 of them are endemic species. To compare, the similarity index was highest between Taiwan and southern China and it was lowest between Taiwan and tropical areas. In conclusion, Taiwan and southern China have the highest floristic relationships and most of the Fagaceae species in Taiwan are distributed from Taiwan to southern China. Ecological similarity and the land bridge between Taiwan and China were probably responsible for the close floristic relationship between these two areas, whereas dispersal characteristics of Fagaceae species were probably related to the low relationship between Taiwan and tropical areas.

Taiwan is proud of its abundant oak family distribution. However, the consequences of habitat loss has shown a dire need for the conservation of the oak family. Surprisingly, Mr. Lai had collected 40 species of oaks on his farm and created an oak garden in the last 20 years. This oak garden has been recognized as the first conservation site of the oak family in Taiwan. Data on the planted trees in the garden have been put into a database to document not only the growth condition of these trees, but also their phonology. This database may contribute to the future conservation of the oak family in Taiwan and other countries in East Asia.

Among these oak family species is a tree species of particular value, the Taiwan Beech. It is the only deciduous species of the oak family, Fagaceae, that exists in Taiwan and is declared as a valuable, rare plant. The plant is precious for being the oldest species in the oak family’s evolutionary history, according to research. Fortunately, the species grows well on the farm and is useful for future observation and study. The oak garden and its conservation is the farm’s first mission for the near future and Mr. Lai’s big dream. It also has a promise to be remembered and well-known as a private conservation intervention of the oak family in Taiwan.


Sustainable livelihoods dream

Living with nature and not against it, in reality, threatens and impacts agricultural sustainability, family economics, and social relationships – factors that are all vital for Mr. Lai’s farming resilience and wellbeing. To cope with these challenges, embracing sustainability in agricultural production is therefore essential. Practicing sustainable agriculture is one way of ensuring the conservation ideals of the farmers in present society. Sustainable agricultural practices are those practices enabling Mr. Lai’s farm to meet current and future societal needs for healthy lives.


The effort of Mr. Lai’s farming is to enable his unique practices to increase their incomes and profitability and diversify their livelihoods. The goal for the future aims to gain more sustainable support, improve agricultural production and marketing, and build capacities for local community involvement and partnership development with neighboring farms and the local tribal community at the coast, Yong-Fu tribe. These goals will be tackled from four approaches:

  • Juhu community and livelihood development

  • Agricultural biodiversity conservation

  • Educational services

  • Science-based farming management

  • Outdoor adventure services


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