A Preliminary Study on Community Supported Agriculture in Indigenous Tribes

A Preliminary Study on Community Supported Agriculture in Indigenous Tribes

Sandy Lin

In recent years, the issue of land use of the indigenous peoples and their struggles have captured much attention of news media. For example, the land development of Taitung Miramar Resort has been a hot issue of concern and discussion; the movie “Wawa No Cidal” (Children of the Sun), based on a true story, focuses on agriculture and livelihood issues. The protagonist of the story, Sumi Dongi, finally succeeded in restoring rice cultivation and striking a balance between the tradition and real livelihood. Traditional agriculture is the main source of livelihood of the people, and it also concerns the maintenance of the ecosystem. Due to rapid economic development, however, agriculture has lost its function of sustaining livelihoods and maintaining the normal operation of the ecosystem. How should indigenous agriculture develop so that the basic value of "agriculture as life" can be re-revitalized? For this reason, some new agricultural development models have begun to take root quietly in indigenous tribes, and community supported agriculture (CSA) is one of them. The author is interested in the introduction of CSA into indigenous tribes in Taiwan. How does a concept generated in a foreign context enter the indigenous tribes? How will it develop? What is its relationship with the indigenous tribe?


First, we will examine the true meaning of CSA. CSA emphasizes the concepts of friendly farming, lower food mileage, and local food consumption, in an attempt to replace traditional farming methods with small-scale, quality-oriented production models. Consumers get to “know the food they eat,” and a partner relationship of trust is established with the local small-scale farmers. This eventually leads to self-sufficiency of food supply. Proponents of community supported agriculture believe in the equation "producers + consumers + mutual commitments each year = community-supported agriculture and unlimited opportunities". This family-style small-scale production model is in line with the spirit of the "International Year of Family Farming" set by the United Nations in 2014. The promoters of CSA believe that only local production can truly resist the dominance of multinational agricultural enterprises and meet the goals of local ecological protection and sustainable agricultural development.


CSA has developed in Europe, America, Japan and other places for many years, but did not start in Taiwan until the 1990s. Studies mainly focused on the general situations and difficulties of CSA development in Taiwan, and the feasibility of CSA as a means of promoting organic agriculture. Classic cases include “Buy Local” (大王菜舖子), “Xingjian Organic Production Cooperative” and “Rice Common Club” etc. However, to date, there has not been much discussion of CSA promoted in indigenous tribes.



A few studies have addressed the dialogue between sustainable agricultural development and land ethics in case studies of the Fushan Grange located in an indigenous tribe. However, they have not specifically pointed out the significance of the CSA model on the development of the Fushan Grange. Looking back on Taiwan’s socio-economic development, we have noticed, as a result of the push and pull between the country and the cities, problems of young workforce emigration, population aging and grand-parenting as well as the breakdown of the inheritance of traditional knowledge, culture and values. As a result, the tribal farmland has been abandoned for a long time.


In this context, the development of CSA in indigenous tribes seems to bear more expectation and mission. Motivations may differ for promoting CSA in the indigenous tribe, but most promoters believe that this new model is a feasible one for tribal development. Next, the author will discuss the observations made in five tribal CSA farms in operation (Fu Shan Grange at Wulai, Qianjia Farm at Hsinchu, Green Birth Farm at Nantou, Yung Fu Farm at Changbin, and ReKart Farm at Luyeh). Before the observation, the tribal CSA is defined as a CSA farm located in an indigenous tribe. Organizations like Homemakers United Foundation and “Buy Local”(大王菜舖子) cooperate with indigenous tribe in production and marketing, but are not included in the study as they are located in urban areas. Another condition is at least three years in operation to indicate stable development.


Of these five tribal CSA farms observed, three are the core promoters of Han people who came to the indigenous tribes from the city. Another one is initiated by the indigenous people in the tribe. The last one first received external group coaching and later returned to the local indigenous people for operation. To understand the operational differences between Han and aboriginal promoters, the author first compared and discussed the CSA tribe promoters and Han promoters. It is found that the Han promoters are mostly oriented to solving tribal issues or the development of organic and natural agriculture; the tribal promoters on the other hand are more concerned with developing tribal industries.


"The biggest problem is sales. We collect some from them (tribal peasants), but we have to make it clear to them. We accept only products with no pesticides and fertilizers. We also help them to transfer to the new model." (Han people promoter)

"You are here to observe, to learn, to develop relationships with the people of our tribe ... Treat the tribe as a five-star hotel. We are an information window, and will share with you the overall situation of our tribal industry." (Tribal promoter)


This "tribal problems" and the corresponding solutions of the five tribal CSAs are listed in the following table, displayed in aspects of economy, society, ecological environment and culture.







Unstable work

Production and sales issues

No habits for saving

Providing employment opportunities and emergency assistance

Direct purchase or joint-selling to provide marketing channels

Payment into account instead of in cash

Building a tribal economy



Youth emigration

Aging population

Single-parent family


Poor learning outcome

Low education

Reducing strength of tribal push

Encouraging schooling

Providing scholarships and suspended meals

Establishment of supplementary classes

Assistance in finding external resources

Providing emergency assistance

Ecological environment

Use of pesticides

Use of chemical fertilizer

Poor soil fertility

Use of organic and natural farming methods

Soil fertility recovery

Seedling and seed production

Biological control of pests

Sustainable energy recycling


Loss of culture and traditional skills

Inherit tribal traditional skills, ecological knowledge and customs

Preserving and applying tribal culture of sharing and traditional ceremonies


To sum up, the contemporary tribal CSAs mainly aim at tribal economic and social development, and are committed to solving tribal problems. The problem of attracting tribal youth to return to their hometowns, however, is still an issue to address. Culturally, there is indication of integration between tribal CSA operation and the culture and life of the indigenous people, and of attempts to strengthen the cultural identity of the tribal people. No innovation has been found on the traditional culture. Ecologically, healthy farming methods are encouraged in a "re-education" process for tribal producers. What is more important is the dialogue with traditional farming knowledge and reintegrate agricultural production behaviors into the natural environment: "In our eyes, our ancestors taught us a lot. A lot of plants can be used for food. We will never starve.”


"Consultation, small-scale farming, and advanced purchase order, will make our volume of production equal to the demand. CSA is the key. Small-scale farmers can survive only if we can fight market economy and free economy. We hope to see small-scale farmers and consumers enjoy symbiosis between production and consumption. This is the basic survival principle, a model of mutual assistance. It was not invented by anyone, but some people now call that CSA, so CSA it will be. No need to argue about the originator... It is just the way it should be." (Tribal promoter)


Reviewing the development of tribal CSAs, we find these promoters are pioneers, drawing the outline of Taiwan ’s indigenous tribal CSAs by referring to foreign cases or exploring by themselves and bringing the organic and natural agricultural laws into the tribes. Although the process is bumpy, and many problems are yet to be solved, their efforts and experience of development have indeed opened up a path for future followers to pursue organic and natural agricultural laws.


Indigenous tribal economy needs bottom-up, spontaneous, locally-adequate and comprehensive development. Issues involved include ethnic self-identification, regeneration of traditional culture, local autonomy, local industrial revitalization, family and personal economic improvement, etc. (Hsieh Jo-Lan and Wu Hui-Hsin, 2010). Large-scale sustained development is not possible with only the contribution of a few people. Joint effort of the whole tribe is needed to develop the industry that is attached to the tribes and to the forest.


The author believes that, in contrast with the CSA equation proposed in the western context: "producers + consumers + mutual commitments each year = community-supported agriculture and unlimited opportunities", the element of indigeneity should be added in the context of contemporary indigenous tribe development in Taiwan, and CSA farms and indigenous tribes will be closely linked. Therefore, the author believes that the above equation for tribal CSA should be: "tribal producers + community consumers + mutual commitments each year = community-supported tribal agriculture and unlimited trial opportunities"