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Story of the Month - February 2019

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

Photo caption: This dragon fruit field is similar to Mrs Li's, but note that the short grass is dying; it is infested with insects. The birds flying above the field are feeding on the insects in the grass. These insects do not harm the fruit, but the fruit are protected by net bags. You can see many blossoms about to bloom. (Photo credit: Joseph Bosco, Oct. 2015)

文字說明:這個火龍果場與李太太的果園相似,但留意短草正在凋謝,大量昆蟲出沒。在田野上空的鳥兒正以草叢中的昆蟲為食。這些昆蟲不會傷害水果,但水果受到網袋的保護。照片中也可以看到很多火龍果花即將綻放。(照片來源:林舟, 2015年10月)

Can Farmers’ Sales Direct to Consumer Guarantee Organic Products?


Joseph Bosco

Adjunct Associate Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, CUHK


Consumers worldwide are increasingly concerned about the risk of pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Consumers can buy organic produce, but how does a shopper know that the produce is really grown without pesticides?


One solution that has emerged is farmers selling and delivering produce directly to urban consumers. This sounds like a win-win situation: consumers get safe food and farmers can sell at a higher price. Taiwan should be an ideal place for direct to consumer farming, because the island is relatively small and densely populated. With rapid and relatively inexpensive delivery services like Black Cat, farmers can easily ship to urban consumers anywhere on the island.

已經出現的一個解決方案是農民直接向城市裡的消費者銷售和宅配農產品。這聽起來像是一個雙贏的局面- 消費者可以獲得安全食品,農民可以以更高的價格出售。台灣應該是直接向消費者直銷農產品的理想地區,這是因為台灣面積相對較小且人口密集。通過如黑貓貨運這種快速且相對便宜的直接宅配服務,農民可以輕鬆地將貨品運送給島上任何地方的城市消費者。

One example of this system is Mrs. Li’s dragon fruit farm in Pingtung County. Mrs. Li is in her 60s, and walks with difficulty. She and her daughter, who is a nurse and works full time in a hospital, grow and market the dragon fruit. Both are Buddhists passionate about organic farming. Dragon fruit actually grows well without pesticides because it can resist many pests. The Lis tie bags over the fruit as they start to grow, to protect them from fruit flies and birds. They only use organic fertilizer. They grow special types of short grasses between the rows of dragon fruit plants to prevent soil erosion and to remove hiding places for rats and insects. They pull weeds and tall grasses out by hand, to keep them from taking over. They call their system “cultivation in weeds without poisons”, because even though they are not accredited as organic, they do not use pesticides and they allow grass to grow around the plants.


Most dragon fruit does not have a very strong taste, but Mrs. Li’s dragon fruit are sweeter and have a subtle, fragrant taste. They are also much larger than what we usually see. I have brought boxes back to Hong Kong as gifts, and friends are impressed.


To grow these delicious fruits is not easy. The plants have to be carefully tended and pruned. Mrs. Li picks the fruit when it is 80 percent ripe, so that when it arrives to the consumer, it is ready to eat.

種植這些美味的水果並不容易, 必須小心地栽培和修剪。李太太在水果八成熟時採摘它們,好使當水果到消費者手上時,就剛好可以吃了。

The fruit is not cheap; in 2016, she sold them at between NT$80 and NT$110 per catty, depending on the size. This was 29 to 71 percent more than the supermarket price. The difference is even greater if you compare it to street market prices.

這些火龍果不便宜。 2016年,李太太以每斤80至110新台幣的價格出售,售價因大小而定。這比超市價格高出29%到71%。如果與街市價格比較,差異則更大。

This system of selling directly to consumers seems fine for wealthy buyers, and for items that are intended as gifts. It does not seem to be viable for the average consumer. Mrs. Li is making a living, but not making a fortune. Only her hard work plus the help of her employed daughter allow this “direct to the consumer” enterprise to survive. And as Mrs. Li gets older, like most Taiwan farmers, one wonders how much longer this will be viable.


Direct to the consumer sales will remain a niche but cannot represent a solution to consumers’ worries about food safety. Just as helicopters are a solution for traffic jams for the rich but do not solve the problem of traffic jams, direct selling to the consumer is a solution for a few rich urban buyers that help a few farmers but fails to address underlying problem of food safety.

直銷手法始終是個小眾市場,不能解決消費者對食品安全的擔憂。正如直升機是富人面對交通擁堵的解決方案,但它不能解決交通擁堵的問題。同理, 直接銷售模式幫助了少數富裕的城市買家,同時也幫助了少數農民,但它並不能解決深層的食品安全問題。

Photo caption: Joseph Bosco in Mrs. Li's field, holding a dragon fruit in the protective net bag. Note the short grass, and some weeds under the fruit. (Photo credit: Joseph Bosco, July 2015)



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