Hacking at the bamboo plant with a machete, Avayi Vayana peels off the tough rind of bark as he surveys the mountains of southern Taiwan, eager for more of the money-making crop his indigenous tribe is increasingly struggling to find.
Generations of Tsu have lived off the bamboo forests in the town of Alishan, which Vaiyana says were planted by their ancestors, usually harvested in April and May.
“The weather in the past few years has been really out of control,” the 62-year-old chief told AFP.
“The rainfall has been delayed and the growth of bamboo shoots has been significantly affected.”
In T’fuya’s native village, the dark brown cones of the island’s native stone bamboo – or phyllostachys lithopila – have become hard to spot.
“The young shoots will not germinate if there is no rain. After a while, they will die inside the ground,” says Vaiyana.
The rains from February to April are essential for the growth of bamboo shoots, but since late last year, there haven’t been any heavy rains.
The Tzu tribe, with a population of 7,000 in Alishan, has seen a steady decline in its bamboo shoot harvest.
On a misty May morning, a welcome mist finally blanketed the bamboo forest where Vaiana works, but it was too late, he told AFP.
This year, its harvest is a third of the 2022 harvest.
Even worse, Vayana and his family now have to deal with monkeys infesting the crops, as he explains after a shotgun is fired from afar: his cousin is trying to scare away the robbers.
“Because many of the surrounding bamboo forests are dead, and now where the bamboo shoots are, all the monkeys will go,” he says.
victims on the front lines
Southern Taiwan is experiencing its worst drought in decades.
Water levels in the Tsingwen Reservoir that serves the southern regions of Tainan and Chiayi have fallen to less than 10 percent this year, the third such drop since 2018, leaving the reservoir layers cracked and exposed.
Tsengwen serves as the main source of water for a huge foundry that makes precious semiconductors for the island—which is in high demand globally—and it also complements the area’s rice-growing plains.
But for the third year in a row, the government is subsidizing farmers not to plant their crops – a sign of the desperate need for water.
An hour’s drive from the reservoir, Alishan also has severe weather changes.
From January to April, precipitation decreased to 226.5 millimeters (8.9 inches), down more than 50 percent compared to the same period last year, according to Taiwan’s Central Meteorological Station.
For the Tzu tribe—whose way of life is intertwined with nature—the effect is “all-encompassing,” says Lina Chang of Taiwanese organization Greenpeace.
“They are the frontline victims of climate change,” Zhang told AFP.
Data collected by Greenpeace Taiwan shows that the decrease in precipitation is continuing. In the past three decades, Alishan has lost an average of 2.6 mm of precipitation annually in February and 1.2 mm in March – a vital period for the growth of bamboo shoots.
At the T’fuya crop collection point, villagers unload bags of bamboo shoots from trucks, and weigh them before sending them off to factories.
“This year the rain came too late and many bamboo trees are sick. The harvest is very bad,” Fuyu Banyana, 24, told AFP.
“On my family’s farm, we don’t have anything. I can only work for other people this year.”
A new cash crop
Those who have returned to their villages after a period of working in the cities find it difficult to subsist on the crops they grew up growing.
Fuyu Yolonana, 43, still remembers the long days spent as a child harvesting bamboo shoots, the sale of which boosted the community’s living standards.
“Buying a car or building a house, we used to depend on bamboo,” he says.
Since Yolonana has returned from working in the city for a while in construction, he has noticed that “the rains don’t come as well as they should.”
Fortunately, his grandfather turned to coffee bean farming, which Yolonana and other younger Tsu have turned towards in the past decade.
“Coffee is slowly replacing bamboo shoots as a cash crop” in Alishan, says Yolonana.
But even he’s not immune to climate change, he said — rains in late spring affect the plant’s flowering season, and erratic weather last year destroyed his family’s crop of 400 shrubs.
“At this point, I can get by with just coffee farming,” Yolonana said. “Who knows what new crops will appear after coffee?”
© 2023 AFP
the quote: Taiwan tribe desperate as drought shrinks bamboo crop (2023, June 2) Retrieved June 2, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-06-taiwan-tribe-despairs-davaf-bamboo.html
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