By Tsai Ching-hua and Jake Chung / Staff reporter, with staff writer
Several people who attended a Council of Agriculture （COA） program five years ago have formed a Kaohsiung-based alliance with the aim of doubling their income and creating better value products.
Farmer Chiu Cheng-hung （邱政鴻） worked as a hair stylist for nine years before he started growing wax apples.
The program helped improve his planting techniques, which in turn enabled his crops to pass inspection for the traceable agricultural products program, Chiu said in an interview last week.
With improved quality and “green” products grown without using pesticides, the price of his wax apples rose 20 percent, he said.
After increasing his total acreage of wax apple trees fourfold, his annual income has increased exponentially and now exceeds NT$10 million （US$339,847）.
“I have met many people from different professions through the program and the connections helped open new distribution channels,” Chiu said.
His wax apples are now sold at Carrefour outlets nationwide, as well as being bought by restaurants and hotels.
Chen Kun-shan （陳坤山） said he began his agricultural career by growing small tomatoes, adding that he produces different varieties year-round in his field and a greenhouse.
“Agriculture is not a charity business and must be run like a corporation,” Chen said.
Changing his packaging and expanding his clientele base by selling to 7-Eleven stores and to restaurants has led to an eightfold increase from his initial income of NT$200,000, he said.
Hsu Lun-chao （許倫肇）, a third-generation farmer, said he helped introduce modern concepts to his family’s litchi farm after taking the program.
Hsu said he has also begun passing on what he has learned, giving production and sales classes to small-scale litchi farmers to show them how to establish standard operation procedures and produce standardized crops.
Implementation of cold chain logistics has helped with exports of litchi to Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, Hsu said, adding that since he joined the alliance, he has developed jam products and litchi beer, increasing his income 10-fold.
Alliance members have seen a noticeable improvement in the quality and quantity of their produce, while overturning the stereotype of elderly farmers who have difficulty selling their produce, Hsu said.
Former hair stylist Chiu Cheng-hung holds up a bunch of water lotus shoots on Thursday at his farm in Kaohsiung. Photo: Tsai Ching-hua, Taipei Times