Singaporeans help farmers sell crops


TAIPEI–Helping Taiwanese farmers sell vegetables is a fun and educational way to spend the summer vacation, Singaporean students said recently as they promoted an unusual volunteer program aimed at youth.

Holding a cabbage freshly plucked from a farm in Hualien County in eastern Taiwan, Kirene Chew said that interacting with local farmers and consumers is an “out of textbook learning experience.”

“Singapore is small so we don’t have much chance getting close to farmers,” said Chew, one of the 10 students from the Singapore Management University who signed up for the volunteer program this year.

During the 14-day trip, they first traveled to Hualien to help farmers weed out invasive plants in gardens, then helped ship and sell overproduced vegetables — cabbage, sweet potato and ginger — to cities.

“Fresh organic cabbages for sale; improve the lives of Hualien farmers,” Chew shouted at a temporary stall in the streets of Taipei, attracting passersby with her accented Chinese and overwhelming passion.

As a business major, the 22-year old said the experience has allowed her to put into practice what she learned at school as well as increased her understanding about agricultural marketing.

“I came to Taiwan a couple of times before for sightseeing but this time, I learned how grateful I should be for everything I have,” said another student Karen Tay, as she tried to connect with potential buyers under the scorching hot sun.

“What we are doing is reducing unnecessary trade barriers and shortening the gap between farmers and consumers,” said Lin Ming-shih, a local volunteer with the Youth Service Organization of Taiwan, the organizer of the program. Lin worked as a part-time truck driver shipping vegetables from municipalities that suffered from a crisis of oversupply to Taipei, where produce can be sold at a higher price.

“We’re hoping to create a butterfly effect in which more goods can be spread around the society,” he said.

Terry Guo, an assistant at the organization, said that besides locals, more foreigners are now signing up for volunteer programs like farming in rural places in Taiwan.

Next month, Guo said he will be expecting a group of students from Musashino University, Japan.

“Foreigners always tell us that they learn to appreciate Taiwan from a deeper angle through the program. Maybe that’s why they keep coming back,” he said.

Each year about 40 foreign students participate in the program that has been in existence since 2000.