If you have seen the movie, Miss Potter, you will realize that after her phenomenal success in publishing children's books, Beatrix Potter used her wealth to buy up large tracts of farms in Cumbria (the Lake District) of northwest England in order to preserve them from developers who were buying the farms to subdivide them. She donated thousands of acres to a land trust to preserve them as working farms rather than allowing them to be developed. Often, the farmers and former owners were hired on as land and farm managers.
Unfortunately, Taiwan has not had a wealthy person or trust with such a vision. For decades, the KMT dictatorship government used farm land as a cash cow by forcing farmers to sell their land at low prices and then when cronies bought the land, the government rezoned it for commercial or residential, thus allowing KMT government officials and cronies to make enormous profits on the deals.
Even now, when such deals are more scrutinized, the destruction of indiscriminate land urbanization continues. For example, in I-lan County, farmland diminishes rapidly as wealthy people buy it for their weekend residences. Even with land restrictions, they will buy a plot, build a small building that meets the land use restrictions, get a government inspector to come and issue the permit for that small building. Then after all the paperwork is done, they will build a massive add-on to the building that triples or quadruples the size, thus ending up with mansion that would never have been originally allowed on the land zoned for farming.
An encouraging contrast can be found in a Taiwan News report of one man who used his wealth and corporate earnings for land preservation. Fortunately his vision also includes the preservation of tree species and mountain and hillsides from erosion and mudslides. Unfortunately, no one else has followed his example and done similar things in the flatlands which developers so hungrily crave in hopes of massive profits. Even with the so much real estate empty in Taipei, developers continue to build in the hopes that one day they will get rich Chinese to come into Taiwan to buy their expensively priced apartments. No concern meanwhile has been shown for Taiwanese who are increasingly squeezed out of these artificially inflated real estate prices. Furthermore, many in Taiwan seemed more concerned for short term profits rather than the long-term health and sovereignty of Taiwan.
But for now, Taiwanese can be thankful for men like Lai Pei-yuan.
Following is the Taiwan News article:
Lai-sang – Taiwan’s “King of the Forest" Taiwan News, Staff Reporter 2012-11-22 10:30 AM
Lai Pei-yuan’s interest in trees started out simply enough. Originally engaged in a shipping firm operated by his family, he happened at one time to buy a modest piece of land from a friend. As things happened, he gradually became attached to the land and started acquiring more parcels in the Da-xue-shan (Big Snow Mountain) area of central Taiwan. Now 26 years after he acquired his first patch of soil he has spent billions of NT dollars acquiring public land for orchards and forests and finds himself bearing the title of “King of the Trees” and dubbed “Lai-sang” – a combination of his surname Lai and the Chinese name for Tarzan – by his friends and associates.
"He adds that the numbers don’t mean anything to him – meaning that how much he has spent acquiring the land and planting trees is not important. He says the most important thing is that he has been able to do all this for the good of the people of Taiwan."
As Lai’s son Lai Chien-chung tells it, the elder Lai’s family – including himself – were a little leery of Lai’s motives in taking up forestry and fruit farming, but eventually they came around and now offer their full support for his efforts to grow trees and fruit. Lai Chien-chung says that in the beginning his father would purchase fruit orchards, then pare them back and plant various species of trees including Taiwan camphor, Taiwan incense cedar and black pines. After 26 years of buying land and re-planting hillsides Lai Pei-yuan estimates that he has planted over 200,000 trees and converted nearly 100 hectares of orchards into lush forests.
While Lai’s family members were not quite sure of their father’s motives in the beginning, they still were willing to get their hands dirty and could often be found digging up grass and planting saplings on the sides of mountains. They also learned to love the land, and Lai Chien-chung took the initiative in planting coffee trees among the other species of trees.
Lai-sang’s motive in planting saplings was not so that he could harvest the grown trees for lumber. He simply wanted to cover barren hillsides with healthy, green forests. Everyone around him was curious as to what kind of fool he might be, giving up his home and family to go off into the mountains by himself and plant trees.
For the first few years after Lai bought his first parcels of land he would set off early in the morning with a couple of helpers to prepare the soil, lay down water pipes and plant trees, often coming home long after the sun had gone down behind the mountains. Luckily his family was very understanding and accommodating as he paid out funds for what many saw as useless tracts of wilderness. And Lai’s stubborn perseverance eventually moved the rest of the family to pitch in and join him in the mountains, planting trees and pulling up unwanted plants and weeds on the slopes.
Lai continued acquiring land and planting trees and now claims to have more than 200,000 trees on his property. He estimates that the total cost of acquiring the orchards and land, purchasing saplings for planting and paying workers to assist in working the land at nearly NT$1.5 billion.
The chairman of Ta-ay Freight and Cloud Road International Co., Ltd., Lai Pei-yuan always longed to go into the mountains as a young man, and it was in the mountainous area of central Taiwan that he finally came upon his ‘heaven on earth’. He admits that in the beginning he was largely ignorant of environmental protection. For some time he entertained the idea of reclaiming land to grow alpine vegetables, but after witnessing time and again how Taiwan's mountains and forests were being ravaged by the construction of roads and planting of orchards with their attendant need for pesticides that were often misused he began to revamp his view of the mountains and forests. He saw how the torrential rains brought by typhoons would trigger mudslides and flooding and realized that what this little place called Taiwan needed was the concept of "planting trees and returning to Nature".
Over the years Lai has never taken advantages of subsidies offered by the government for forestation efforts. Instead he has lavished his attention on each of his precious trees, taking good care of them without any need for pesticides or other chemicals. He claims a survival rate of 98% for his trees and points out that officers from the Forestry Bureau often turn to him for advice on techniques for planting trees. read more...