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'Rice Bomber' of Taiwan Pins Hopes on Organic Farming

by VR Sreeraman on October 5, 2009 at 12:50 PM
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 'Rice Bomber' of Taiwan Pins Hopes on Organic Farming

If there is such a thing as a non-violent bomber, Taiwanese farmer Yang Ju-man seems to be exactly that.

The boyish-looking 31-year-old planted 17 bombs earlier this decade to raise awareness of the plight of the island's agricultural sector, and his agenda remains very much the same, only now he pursues it by peaceful means.


"The bombs were meant to attract attention, not to hurt anyone," said Yang, who has turned into a practitioner and proponent of organic farming.

Back in 2002, after Taiwan's entry into the World Trade Organisation, he was known only as the "rice bomber".

Yang planted his small explosives -- some made from old-fashioned gunpowder with a handful of rice thrown on top -- in parks, telephone booths, commuter trains and public restrooms in the Taipei area.

His aim was not to hurt and maim -- only two bombs actually went off, and no one was injured -- but to remind the public of the pressure local farmers were put under as membership of the trade body meant an influx of foreign rice.

"I'd written to the media and politicians pleading not to join the World Trade Organisation but as a nobody I was ignored," said Yang, who learned how to make bombs while doing compulsory military service.

As a mystery bomber targeted in a massive manhunt, he became something of an anonymous hero to many farmers seeing their livelihood threatened by the cheaper foreign imports.

He eventually turned himself in, believing his message had been heard, and was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail for endangering public safety in a trial that saw farmers and social activists rally behind him.

"I have no regrets in doing so. A person should only look forward," he said.

But Yang said he did regret that much of the public attention was focused on him rather than broader agricultural issues, and he hoped to remedy this after his early release in 2007 on a presidential pardon.

His objective is to promote organic farming, growing a small rice paddy in Taipei county and travelling frequently around the island to give speeches or conduct workshops to advocate his ideals.

"My life-time goal is to promote agriculture, help make farmers happy and farming villages prosper," he told AFP, as he led a workship on organic farming on a hill dotted with vegetable patches on the oustkirts of Taipei.

"We cannot do things like the old generations who used pesticides and chemical fertilisers," he said.

"We have to use methods that are friendly and non-toxic to the environment so it is healthy for the consumers and sustainable for the land. If we treat the land nicely it will repay us with good food."

Organic agriculture was introduced to Taiwan around 1990 although as of late 2008, the most recent data available, it accounted for less than one percent of the island's total farm area, according to the government.

Yang has so far recruited 24 like-minded farmers to start a weekend market in Taipei for organic producers and the interest is growing as he recently received 60 new applications.

One of his recruits is software programmer Alex Lin, 38, who took up farming six months ago saying he was inspired by Yang's goals.

"Programming is stressful and exhausting while farming is very rewarding and meaningful," Lin said. "I feel content that I can do something good for myself and others by growing organic vegetables."

Lin still found his computer skills useful to help design on-line retail for the weekend market, which began this month to meet rising demand.

Another encouraging sign for the future of agriculture is that more young people, weary of the stressful urban jungle, join farming in hopes of being near nature and living simpler lives, according to Yang.

"The current generation of farmers are already in their 60s and 70s and they can barely do their jobs. The whole farming sector could be gone in ten years without new blood," the former "rice bomber" said.

Source: AFP

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