I knew long before leaving Saint Lucia that my recent trip to Taiwan would be meaningful, particularly because of the efforts of the Taiwanese government here on island, facilitated by its Embassy, established in 2008. Most of the projects undertaken by the Saint Lucian government in collaboration with the embassy are developmental oriented, whether in terms of building or upgrading infrastructure, or imparting knowledge, through various training and exchange programmes. It has always seemed that it is with particular zeal that the Taiwanese support our government on these initiatives, and my trip across the globe gifted me with some insight as to why this may be so. For one thing, there are a few unmistakable similarities between Taiwan and Saint Lucia, the geographical configuration of our islands, for one. Then there’s the fact that the Taiwanese themselves, as personable in their own territory as they are in ours, share the same belief that the friendliest people come from the south. The south for them is where the aboriginal people can be found, and there, culture and tradition are valued above all else. Sounds familiar?
In particular, a visit to the Rinari tribe on day three of my tour led to the heart and soul of that part of the country. The women there danced, and men strummed guitars as they spoke about how important was the need for them to preserve their culture, and how far they’d come. I won’t soon forget the moment a group of women approached me to ask for a photo. The only English word we exchanged then was, simply, “beautiful”. Needless to say, we spent quite a lot of time going back and forth about whom was more so, and in the end left in smiles and waves. Earlier in the day we’d made symbolic glass beads, mostly of our own creation I’d like to say, but I know most of the actual crafting happened long after we left the workshop, while we were busy testing the limits of the Duona Suspension Bridge, a scenic cross-over 105m high with a view comparable to none.
Our schedule included a tour of Maolin in the south that encouraged participants to slow their life pace and experience true vitality. We found there an abundance of ecological resources and stunning backdrops littered with hiking trails, waterfalls, and several indigenous groups. In the midst of it all was the Purple Crow Butterfly Valley, a hub for nature seekers particularly in the winter, as it was the time a large number of dwarf crow butterflies migrated from the north, to the Valley in Maolin. More than just a scenic stop, Maolin has over the years been recognised as an ideal place to cultivate agricultural products, which set the tone for a visit to the Kaohsiung District Agricultural Research and Extension Station.
The Station is one of seven agricultural research establishments in Taiwan, and some of the major agronomic crops studied there include rice, vegetable soybean, and adzuki bean. The general objectives of the research are varietal development, and cultural practice involvement. In particular: “Our breeding goal is to develop crop varieties with high quality, high yield, and anti-stress traits.” Research at the station delves into tropical fruit, floriculture, food processing, plant protection and various other aspects. The agricultural station takes charge of agricultural management and consultation, farmer education and training, as well as information dissemination and communication.
After a tour of the wide acreage at the research centre we were off to the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, timely, because there we met various scholarship recipients from the Caribbean and Pacific, including a Saint Lucian student from the Department of Tropical Agriculture and International Cooperation. I asked about his journey from Saint Lucia to Taiwan and he walked me through the rapid transition of wanting a scholarship so badly, then finally getting it and being terrified, to settling into a new country, and now being in his final year. His perspective on the agricultural industry in Taiwan vis-à-vis Saint Lucia is reflected in an interview on page 16.
Meanwhile, after a trip that sought to share knowledge on Taiwan’s progress and advancements in a number of areas, not to mention its far-reaching international developmental aid endeavours, I am left with even more appreciation for the efforts of the Taiwanese government in Saint Lucia.