With a population of only 5000 people, Mudan Township, in the most Southern stretches of Taiwan, “Sotoyama under forest economics” are being introduced as a model of generating income while following the ancient wisdom of living in harmony with nature.
The project was launched with support from the National Development Council, the Forestry Bureau and the Pingtung County Government and is part of the first wave of such projects to be implemented across the country. It is also the first township-wide under forest economics “placemaking” project to be rolled out in Taiwan.
On December 11th, representatives from various government agencies and partnering organizations were present for the unveiling the new “Community Mushroom Cultivation Center”, the centerpiece of the project. The director of the Forestry Bureau, Hua Ching Lin made some remarks at the event, stating that “the mushroom cultivation is the result of cooperation between industry, government and academia – with the platform coming from industry, the technology from academia, the local seeds and workers coming from the community and resources and support coming from the government.”
He also added that “unlike with industry mushroom cultivation systems, this model is suited for mountain villages, small farms – and can provide new opportunities for young people who want to move back to the rural communities they grew up in. With different mushrooms selected for each of the different mountain areas throughout Taiwan these projects will also preserve diversity and make the industry more resilient.”
The current project began in May of this year and has been promoted for less than 7 months. In the future, with the goal will be to continue maintaining the ecosystem and operating sustainably while following Sotoyama principles to help Mudan Township to develop under forest economies.
Mudan Township has a 60-year history of mushroom cultivation. Over the years, wood from the Castanopsis indica tree has served as the main substrate for growing. The shiitake mushrooms they cultivated had a strong aroma and unique flavor. Recently, however, they have faced with problems such as insufficient source of substrate and weakening of strains. The strain that used to maintain a production capacity of three years now has only one year of productivity.
A team was organized to find solutions to the problems, and working together with National Pingtung University of Science and Technology (NPUST), the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute and the Gaoshi Tribe of Mudan Township established the first Community Mushroom Cultivation Center in the country. The professional team conducted assessments, collected and evaluated different strains of mushrooms and carried out propagation work. Dividing the labor between the school and the community, training and technology transfer was carried out until the community was able to completely take over the operation. Through the project, tribal youth, like Zhi-yang Li and Chia-Rou Wang, have been able to learn new skills that are enabling them to engage in economic activity right in their own village.
The director of the Mudan Township Office, Pan Chuang-chih, said that “in the past the people of Mudan who lived on the mountains ate from the mountains, and those who lived on the ocean ate from the ocean – living in harmony with nature. Even though the tribes’ people didn’t know the technical terms like “Sotoyama Initiative”, “under forest economics” and “agroforestry”, they were fortunate that Professor Mei-hui Chen and her team from NPUST came in and introduced mushroom cultivation techniques, under forest bee keeping and chicken rearing. This has given residents an opportunity to learn professional technology, and to gradually establish an under forest economy name-brand for the township”.
The project host, Prof. Mei-hui Chen has great expectations for the project. Already five of the six villages in Mudan are on board with eco-tourism and now with support from the government agencies, she expects that the communities will be able to develop under forest economic knowhow and placemaking activities. And as it takes root, it will help more community gems to shine across Taiwan.