Gendered Innovation

—Three Women Make Their Mark in Agriculture
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2019 / October

Esther Tseng /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Phil Newell


Jennifer Hsiung, Yang Jia-cih and Su Siou-lian are women. They are women farmers. They are women farmers who use smart technology. Jennifer Hsiung uses technology to make innovations in agricultural production and management. Yang Jia-cih is taking on the challenges posed to farming by climate change. Su Siou-lian has broken through the barriers of tradition, a remote location, gender, and ethnicity to found an eco-friendly organic farm that generates inclusivity and sustainable development. These three fit right into the goals that have been promoted for many years by the Asia‡Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), of promoting innovative gendered approaches in smart agriculture, and harnessing opportunities for inclusiveness.

 


According to statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, women account for 49.5% of the agricultural workforce in East and Southeast Asia (excluding Japan). Women farmers can become important engines for economic growth and overcoming poverty. However, in the past women’s contributions to agriculture have often been ignored.

Wu Hsiu-chen, director-general of the Executive Yuan’s Department of Gender Equality, notes that in order to enable women to become an important force for economic de­velop­ment, “the 2016 Declaration of the 24th APEC Economic Leaders Meeting urged members to facilitate women’s and girls’ access to science, technology, engineering, and math [STEM] education. In 2019 APEC went a step further, encouraging women to participate in the use of smart technology in agriculture, which can not only reduce the burden of labor on women farmers but also increase agricultural production, creating inclusive and sustainable growth.”

Jennifer Hsiung, Yang Jia-cih, and Su Siou-lian—these three hi-tech women farmers who are challenging professional gender barriers and are shining in the field of agri­culture—fit right in with the model called for by APEC in 2019.

✦The hi-tech cornfields of Xiluo

Amid the heat and intense sunshine of the cornfields of Yunlin County’s Xiluo Township we find Jennifer Hsiung, president of Great Agri Technology Company. Dressed simply and wearing sneakers, she fearlessly braves the sunlight and ultra­violet rays. Sometimes, she is animatedly greeting the field workers who are doing the harvesting, and sometimes she is off to the side of the fields discussing market prices with the farmers who grow corn for her under contract.

Commercializing agricultural produce

It’s hard to imagine that when she founded Great Agri five years ago, Hsiung—who wears suits and high heels and is known as “the fashion lady in the fields”—was cold-shouldered by farmers. Today, Great Agri has more than 100 corn farmers contracted to it, growing more than 800 million ears of corn per year on over 500 hectares of land. It is the largest supplier of corn for human consumption in all of Taiwan.

Formerly a financial manager at JP Morgan and HSBC, in 2013 Hsiung faced a midlife unemployment crisis when HSBC announced it was closing its asset management division in Taiwan. “I told people I was retiring, but in fact I got laid off,” she says.

She tried going to Cambodia to manage a shoe factory, but this job was too far out of her comfort zone. However, later she happened to eat a sweet and juicy ear of sweetcorn, which not only tasted heavenly, but also sparked the idea for a business opportunity for her.

New management model

Although the family of her husband, Kevin Chen, are wholesalers in the Xiluo fruit and vegetable market, Hsiung abandoned the traditional channel of selling produce by auction to wholesalers. She took an innovative approach, creating a production chain that encompassed crop production, processing, and marketing, thus transforming corn, baby corn, and other products into consumer goods.

In order to sell directly into supermarkets and other distribution channels, and to provide a reliable and safe supply of goods, Great Agri applied for certification to use the “Traceable Agricultural Product” label right from the start. At that time there had been a number of food safety scandals, so TAP-certified produce became coveted by sales channels. This enabled Great Agri corn to dominate the shelves of outlets like PX Mart and Costco within just two years.

Treating corn like a financial product

Hsiung gets the farmers who jokingly called her the “fashion lady” to willingly sell their corn to her, and she brings to bear the skills and knowledge she accumulated over 18 years in financial management.

Mobilizing her feminine warmth and kindness, ­Hsiung treats hardworking farmers like company employees, inviting them to Mid-Autumn Festival barbeques and on company trips to build loyalty. She also gets polo-­shirt uniforms made for them, touching their hearts. But what really motivates the farmers is that she guarantees to buy their corn at 10‡20% above the market price, so they are happy to supply corn of dependable quality in reliable  quantities.

Great Agri has also worked with the Corporate Synergy Development Center, which guides enterprises through industrial transformation, to create an “agritech cloud.” Through weather stations installed in fields, conditions such as soil quality, water quality, moisture, acidity, pesticide concentration, and sunshine can be monitored. Using big data, the system can calculate the best time for spraying pesticides and the best date for harvesting, and through a management app, it can increase harvest efficiency and ensure the safe use of pesticides.

Having changed careers in middle age, Jennifer ­Hsiung says: “Being with these down-to-earth farmers every day really makes me happy.”

✦A seed nursery in Zhongpu

Inside a greenhouse at a seed nursery in Chiayi County’s Zhongpu Township, the cool of autumn brings no relief whatsoever. In the hot and stuffy greenhouse, Yang Jia-cih, CEO of Telome Seedlings Company, is entirely wrapped up in clothing, leaving only her eyes visible, as she plucks away old leaves, applies pesticide, and quarantines sick plants. She sticks at her task for eight solid hours.

As climate change accelerates, plants are increasingly seriously affected by pests and diseases. Yang and her team inoculate banana and strawberry seedlings so that the resulting plants will be more resistant to climate change, pests and pathogens.

Disease-resistant seedlings supplied by Telome have been purchased by specialist banana farmers who supply Costco and 7-Eleven. Currently sales volume is about 120,000 plants per year, and they are used on more than 100 hectares of banana plantations. To meet the increasing number of orders Telome is getting, “PhD farmer” Yang Jia-cih has decided to make an additional investment of some NT$10 million to expand her company’s operations in Zhongpu.

Starting from scratch

Yang, who gained her doctorate at the Graduate Institute of Biotechnology at National Chung Hsing University in 2013, was just in time for the “From IP to IPO” program launched by the Ministry of Science and Technology. The program aims to encourage the commercial application of scientific research. Yang, together with her schoolmate Chang Kung-hao and another partner, amassed NT$3 million in capital to found Telome Seedlings Company and breed disease-resistant seedlings.

Thanks to technology transfer based on many years of field research into the prevention of Panama disease (Fusarium wilt) in bananas by professors at Chung ­Hsing such as Huang Chieh-chen, Telome turns beneficial bacterial strains into plant vaccines, which they inject into seedlings produced by asexual propagation. Just as a human baby benefits from inoculations against illnesses, the vaccines increase the resistance of plants to pests and diseases in the environment.

Because word of mouth between farmers is the best form of marketing, Yang, who has a keen eye for plants’ condition and for damage cause by pests and diseases, personally visits banana plantations large and small to diag­nose problems and give advice. She gives consultations on the most effective use of chemicals for disease control, and answers farmers’ questions via messaging app, on everything from damage caused by excess fertilizer use to how to cope with flooding in the fields. Through this attentive and diligent service Telome has built up a sterling reputation, and has even received orders from offshore islands including Kinmen and the Penghu Islands.

✦An organic farm in Guangfu

Su Siou-lian, who stands less than 150 centimeters tall, started out with no farming experience at all. But in 2002 she began learning farming from scratch in the Fata’an indigenous community (Chinese name Matai’an) in Hualien ­County’s Guangfu Township.

From the beginning, she started with organic ­vegetable farming, which has high costs and low production volumes. She raised her own seedlings, refused to use chemical fertilizers or herbicides, and cultivated rich and fertile soil. Nature has repaid her care, and her farm has expanded from 0.3 hectares to 14.9 hectares today. It can produce at least 5000 kilograms of vegetables and 7000 kilos of rice and other grains annually, and has become a supplier of vegetables to supermarkets like PX Mart.

Being herself despite discrimination

After Typhoon Toraji ravaged mountain indigenous communities in 2001, in 2002 Su Siou-lian, who had always worked odd jobs, joined the “Ma-Tang Collective Organic Farm,” organized by the local church, in order to restore the land damaged by the typhoon and to learn how to farm. (In the Amis language, ma-tang means “to begin cultivating anew.”)

In 2004 she joined a program offered by World Vision Taiwan to teach indigenous women job skills. Many of the trainees only attended because there were subsidies, and when the subsidies ended they just idly stayed at home. Only Su stuck with the program from start to finish.

In 2009 she returned to Guangfu Township, where she leased 0.3 hectares of land, launching the Pangcah Organic Farm by growing sweet potato leaves, pumpkins, and green beans.

Returning to her community as a divorced woman, local people scorned Su to her face: “You’re an indigen­ous person and a woman—you won’t make it on your own! Women should be subordinate to their husbands and families. You plant vegetables but don’t spray pesticides—you’ll never succeed!” At the time Su thought to herself: “It’s not up to you all to decide what I want to do.” Unafraid of what people were saying, she resol­utely continued to pursue organic cultivation.

Setting cultivation plans

Unlike most farmers, Su does not focus on growing those vegetables that command the best market price. No matter how high the price of cabbage gets at any given time, she continues to set her own cultivation plans based on the growing seasons of different vegetables.

However, seedling firms were unable or unwilling to supply the seedlings she needed. After finding no sellers a few times, she finally decided to grow her own seedlings. It took her three years to be able to do this successfully.

Today, Su has systematized standard operating procedures for growing seedlings, and she makes her knowhow freely available on request. “Because I experienced so many failures, having been there myself I hope that this free information can help people who, like me, don’t have much money,” says Su.

Because she grows her seedlings and cultivates her crops according to a plan, she can provide a dependable supply to buyers. When you also consider that her farm has organic certification, it is no surprise that when she joined a program for small farmers to deliver directly to PX Mart supermarkets, Pangcah Organic Farm was able to expand from selling to three stores to taking orders from 20.

“Where there is land there is work.” The dedicated efforts of Su Siou-lian are a real-life version of the saying “the spring wind can call the earth back to life, hard work can produce abundant harvests.”

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繁體

性別化創新

遇見智慧科技女農

文‧曾蘭淑 圖‧林格立

熊亞萍、楊佳慈與蘇秀蓮,是女性,是女性的農夫,還是智慧科技女農。熊亞萍運用科技創新農業生產與管理;楊佳慈迎戰氣候變遷對農地帶來的挑戰;蘇秀蓮突破傳統、偏鄉、性別與族群的疆界,開墾友善土地的有機農場,創造了包容性與永續的發展。他們三位正呼應了亞太經合會(以下簡稱APEC)長年推廣的目標:善用性別化創新、掌握包容性機會。

 


根據聯合國農糧組織的統計,東亞和東南亞(不含日本)的農業女性勞動人口約佔49.5%,女農可以成為經濟成長和脫貧的重要動力。然而,以往婦女對農業的貢獻,卻往往被忽視。

為了讓女性在經濟發展的過程中成為重要的力量,行政院性別平等處處長吳秀貞指出:「APEC 2016年的領袖會議宣言,鼓勵女性進入科學、技術、工程與數學(簡稱STEM)等領域。2019年APEC更進一步提倡,鼓勵婦女參與智慧科技農業,不僅可以減少農業婦女的勞動負擔,更可以增加農業生產,創造包容性與永續性成長。」

熊亞萍、楊佳慈與蘇秀蓮,這三位挑戰職業性別藩籬,在農業領域發光發熱的科技女農,正是呼應2019年APEC倡議的典範。

✦科技引領的雲林西螺玉米田

身處烈日曝曬、高溫焚身的玉米田中,穿著布鞋、輕裝簡從的鮮綠農業科技(簡稱鮮綠)董事長熊亞萍,卻完全無懼豔陽與紫外線,時而神采奕奕地問候收割的工人,時而在田邊與契作的農民洽談市場收購價格。

農產品商品化、產業化

很難想像,五年前熊亞萍剛創立鮮綠時,穿著套裝與高跟鞋,被封為「田間LV小姐」的她,被農民拒於「田」外。如今,鮮綠旗下有一百多位契作的玉米農,年契作面積超過五百公頃,年產量8億5千支玉米,並且是全台灣最大的食用玉米供應商。

原本在摩根、匯豐擔任理財專員,2013年底匯豐宣布裁撤台灣的資產管理部門,她面臨了中年失業的危機。「我對外說是退休,其實是被layoff(資遣)。」熊亞萍說。

曾試著到柬埔寨管理製鞋工廠,在被迫跨出舒適圈的茫然中,無意之間吃到一支清甜又爆漿的水果玉米,「驚為天人」之餘,她嗅到營運商機。

導入科技企業化管理

雖然先生陳順情的家族是西螺果菜中盤商,熊亞萍卻捨棄傳統果菜市場拍賣的管道,她從創新的角度,切入生產、加工與行銷的生產鏈,將玉米、玉米筍等農產品變成商品。換句話說,她把玉米當成基金的金融商品來經營。

一檔賣得好的長青基金,要篩選、配置、包裝,還要有保本能力與穩定的績效。鮮綠為了直接打進超市等通路,提供穩定、安全的貨源,一開始就申請「產銷履歷」標章,正巧碰上食安風暴,有「食品身分證」的農產品成為各通路的搶手貨,所以讓鮮綠玉米短短二年,就席捲全聯、好市多(Costco)等通路的貨架。

在生產管控這一部份,當清晨即收割、還冒著田間熱的玉米,送到鮮綠時,就以一條龍的加工、機械化的包裝,迅速地將大量新鮮的玉米,送上高級超市的通路。

田間經濟學:把玉米當基金

特別的是,能讓笑她是LV小姐的農民,心甘情願地交出玉米讓她賣,熊亞萍發揮累積了18年從事理專的長才與優勢。

昔日為攏絡資產規模動輒上千萬元的客戶,不時舉辦品酒會、彩妝講習;今日,她發揮女性溫柔親切的特質,將「汗滴禾下土」的農民當成公司的員工,邀請他們來中秋節烤肉與員工旅遊,營造向心力;還為農民做制服,讓農民揪感心之餘,真正打動農民的是以高於一至二成的保證價格收購,讓農民願意供應質量穩定的玉米。

鮮綠也與輔導產業轉型的中衛發展中心合作「農業科技雲」,透過田間裝設氣象站,監測土壤、水質、溼度、酸鹼值、農藥濃度與陽光等條件,透過大數據算出噴藥時間、最佳採收日期,也透過App的管理,提高採收效能、確保用藥安全。

熊亞萍向理專時期的客戶募集資金,花了上億元蓋標準廠房,讓鮮綠處理玉米可以機械化,是將農產品產業化,走向農企業的關鍵。雖有向股東交代獲利的壓力,還肩負了照顧員工生計的社會責任,中年轉業的熊亞萍說:「每天與真誠的農民在一起,真的很開心。」 

✦嘉義中埔種苗溫室對抗氣候變遷

在嘉義中埔鄉的種苗溫室,秋天的涼意完全起不了作用,高達攝氏30多度的悶熱溫室,包得只剩二隻眼睛的帝霖公司執行長楊佳慈,摘老葉、噴藥,隔離病株,一做就是八小時。

由於氣候變遷加劇,使得植物遭受病蟲害的情形愈來愈嚴重,楊佳慈與團隊將香蕉、草莓的種苗打上預防針,讓植物更能抵抗氣候的變異與病蟲害。

帝霖公司的抗病種苗,吸引供貨給好市多、7-11的專業蕉農採購,目前一年銷售量達到12萬株,使用的田區超過100公頃。因應增加的訂單,博士農夫楊佳慈又再斥資上千萬元,在嘉義中埔擴廠。

白手起家,學以致用

2013年中興大學生物科技研究所畢業的楊佳慈,適逢科技部推出「創新創業激勵計畫」,鼓勵將科研結果商品化、產業化,楊佳慈與中興大學的學弟張恭豪等三人集資300萬元,創立了帝霖公司─興大苗圃,培育「抗病種苗」。

由於中興大學教授黃介辰等學者,進行香蕉黃葉病的田間防治研究行之有年,帝霖透過技術移轉的方式,選出有利菌種作成植物疫苗,在種苗進行無性繁殖時注入疫苗,就好像人出生要打預防針一樣,提升植物對病蟲害的抵抗力。

帝霖的抗病種苗單株要19元,與單株12元的一般種苗相比,農民第一個反應:「這麼貴。」出身屏東佳冬鄉香蕉世家的業務長張恭豪,先向親戚叔伯推銷。他說,「一旦香蕉遭到黃葉病的侵襲,甚至高達五成的香蕉樹死掉,必須廢園。抗病種苗縱使貴一點,親戚們也願意支持。」有了親情贊助,再加上那一年香蕉一公斤破百元,有賺到錢的農民願意投資,帝霖公司順勢地第一年就賣了五千株種苗。

口碑行銷,專業諮詢

至於抗病種苗的成效如何?楊佳慈誠實地說,市場的反映不一。有一處香蕉園,先前黃葉病的罹患率高達20%,用了抗病種苗後,罹病率降到零;但也有蕉農反映抗病種苗「沒有用」。

由於農民之間口耳相傳是最重要的行銷管道,看得懂植物性狀與病蟲害的她,親自到田間診斷,不分大農、小農,提供用藥防治的諮詢,是肥料用太多造成肥傷,或是田間淹水太嚴重,利用LINE隨時回覆農友的疑問,用心服務,因而建立了口碑,還有遠從金門、澎湖離島的農友來訂購,讓楊佳慈第三年就賺到當時的投資額,並且有信心加碼投資在中埔擴建種苗廠。

✦花蓮光復邦查有機農場

身高不到150公分的蘇秀蓮,從沒有務農經驗的她,2002年在花蓮光復鄉馬太鞍部落從頭開始學習務農,希望藉此追求生活的穩定。

她一入門,即從成本高、產量少的有機菜園開始,自行育苗,堅持不用化肥、除草劑,培育豐沃好土,大地也回饋她,從三分地到現今14.9公頃,一年至少可以生產五千公斤的蔬菜、七千多公斤的雜糧與稻米,並且成功將菜蔬供應全聯等超市。

挺住歧視做自己

2001年的桃芝颱風重創山地部落時,總是打零工的蘇秀蓮,在2002年參加教會舉辦的「馬圵共同農場」(馬圵就是重新開墾之意)重新復育被風災破壞的土地,學習耕作。她一邊學有機農法,一邊利用前夫家的一分地,試著種植紅蘿蔔與小白菜,雖然種成功了,但賣不出去,只能自己吃或把菜打掉,收入不穩定。

為了生計,蘇秀蓮參加縣府以工代賑的計畫,到大興村裸露的山坡地去種樹。工作以一期一期計,收入更不穩定。

由於長期處於工作不穩定的不安全感中,極欲追求生活安定的她,下定決心回來全心務農,2004年參加世界展望會為了培訓部落婦女一技之長的計畫,許多學員因為有補助就參加,沒有了補助就賦閒在家。只有蘇秀蓮一路接受培訓,沒有間斷,進一步學習農場管理與有機驗證的申請,接著到鳳林鄉擔任吉拉卡樣農場經理,從做中學。

2009年她回到光復鄉,租了三分地,從種植地瓜葉、南瓜與四季豆開始了邦查有機農場。

一個離了婚的女人回到部落,當地的人當著蘇秀蓮的面數落她:「妳是原住民,又是個女人,不可能獨當一面的啦!女人就是要依附在老公與家族底下。妳種菜還不噴農藥,不可能成功的!」蘇秀蓮當時心裡反彈著:「我要做的事情,不是由你們來決定。」她不畏人言,毅然決然繼續走著有機耕種的路。

燠熱的田間,不斷重覆著勞動與體力的工作,她不以為苦,經常一陣涼風吹來,比吹冷氣還要舒服的田間小確幸,聊慰著她的心。

善用管理知識,訂定栽培計劃

蘇秀蓮不像一般農民跟著搶種市場價格最好的菜蔬,不管彼時高麗菜價飆得多高,她依據不同菜蔬的生長節期,訂定生長與栽培計畫。初秋種植龍葵、野莧、木鱉子葉,11月換成高麗菜、紫背菜與山茼蒿。然而,種苗行不願根據她的需要供應種苗,求人一次、二次,最後她決定「不求人」,自己培育種苗。

但培育種苗的技術談何容易,種苗行也不願傳授know-how,蘇秀蓮土法煉鋼,從失敗中學習,不斷摸索,大約花了三年時間,浪費了許多耗材、種子,才慢慢領悟出育苗的技術與時程。她現今將育苗的SOP系統化,同時公開,供需要的人索取。「因為我走過那段路,歷經許多的失敗,我希望這些免費的資訊,可以幫助跟我一樣不是很有錢的人。」蘇秀蓮說。

一開始通路有限,她勤跑有機市集、有機農產品展,因而接到重視食安健康的基金會訂購,從三斤的蔬菜箱,成長至每週有一百多斤的訂單,成為穩定的客源之一。

也因為按著栽培計畫育苗、耕種,供貨穩定,加上有機認證的加持,隨著全聯超市推出小農直送計畫,邦查農場從三家爭取至20家全聯超市的訂單。

有機耕耘,生機盎然

由於不用除草劑,農場前兩年蟲害嚴重,收入少是經營有機農場初期必經的困境,蘇秀蓮以堅毅的語氣說著:「坐在地上哭,作物就會活過來嗎?只能快快振作,打掉重種。」

經過多年的復育,現今的邦查農場,踏在鬆軟的農地上,地瓜葉、龍葵等菜蔬中,看得到牧草、牛筋草、香覆子與刺莧,以及小蝸牛、椿象、芽蟲與瓢蟲的多樣性生態。

蘇秀蓮走在堅持有機種植的這條路,不只讓自己有了穩定的營收,隨著超市等通路訂單的增加,也為部落的婦女提供了工作機會,農場裡即聘用了八位二度就業、平均55歲的婦女。「有土地就有工作。」蘇秀蓮的努力正說著「春風能叫大地回春,勤勞可使五穀豐登」的故事。

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