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Rice growing in Chiayi County.  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Taiwan > History & Politics

Taiwan's History: Rice

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Taiwan depends on imports for about two-thirds of its food needs, yet in terms of rice, the island is more than 90% self-sufficient, more than a million tonnes of the grain being grown each year. The need to import rice is relatively recent; throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Taiwanese merchants funded the pioneering of new farmland (in the hinterland of Lugang, for example) so they could ship the surpluses to the overpopulated Chinese mainland. Taiwan's cities have sprawled since World War II, yet rice fields can still be seen in every flat part of Taiwan. Vividly green paddies are one of the signature sights of the east and the south, where huge harvests are the result of careful irrigation.

Even though affluence means Taiwanese can enjoy a varied diet, millions of people still eat rice twice or even three times a day. In Mandarin, the act of preparing a meal is zhu-fan (煮飯, "cook rice"). To the dismay of some Western visitors, breakfast often consists of rice served as a watery gruel with pickles, peanuts, fried eggs and dried shredded pork. Steamed white rice is the basis of a typical Taiwanese lunch or dinner; brown rice is less common, but available at most vegetarian restaurants. Rice ground into flour is made into dumplings or noodles (most noodles, however are made from wheat flour). Rice has even played a role in construction; many houses built before 1950 (and also some replicas built in the last few years) feature wattle and daub, rice husks being an ingredient of the latter.

Rice paddies may look as though they support no other forms of life, but if you look closely you'll find spiders and tiny moths, and you'll hear the croaking of frogs. Many places are also infested by golden apple snails (Pomacea canaliculata), an exotic species that has become a major pest because it feeds on young rice shoots. When breeding, the snails' leave pink egg masses just above the waterline. 

Demand for organically-grown rice has been increasing, so more and more farmers are embracing traditional methods such as raising ducks in their rice fields. These fowl eat golden apple snails and other pests; their feet stir the soil and their excrement is a natural fertilizer.

Type: Tip
Location: Taiwan

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