發表時間: 2005/11/14 00:00:00
The Legacy of Japanese Rice in Taiwan
In late August, a promotion for rice produced in Wuchieh, Ilan County (known as "Taiwan's most precious rice"), was held in Taipei. The rice is a strain of Japanese Koshihikari rice and it sells for NT$150 per kilogram. Farmers in Wuchieh planted 30 hectares in March and harvested 120 tons in late June. They sold out quickly.
The fact is that one needn't look far to find top quality rice. Today many of Taiwan's commonly planted cultivars, such as Taikeng 9 and Tainung 71 (Yi-chuan aromatic rice), can trace their lineages to Koshihikari.
It wouldn't be far from the mark to say that the Taiwanese acquired their taste in rice from the Japanese.
The Council of Agriculture's History of Taiwan Rice explains that in the early days Taiwan's paddy fields were planted with varieties of long grain (indica) rice (known locally as "zai lai" rice), most of which had crossed the Taiwan Strait with the Han Chinese settlers from mainland China. Back then, Taiwan's rice was grown not only for the local market, but was also exported to the mainland. When the Japanese colonized Taiwan, the Japanese here couldn't accustom themselves to the local long-grained rice and decided to bring in short grain (japonica) seed varieties from Japan.
Penglai rules the rice bowl
But when Japanese rice varieties were first introduced in Taiwan, the results weren't particularly good as a result of the wetter, warmer Taiwanese climate. After a while, the Japanese tried crossbreeding until in 1936 they came up with Taichung 65, a new short grain variety with qualities similar to Japanese strains but well suited to the Taiwanese climate. Because this strain was crossbred in Taiwan, it became known as Penglai Rice, after the old name for Formosa among Chinese mariners (who referred to it as the "Penglai Island of demigods and fairies").
With the encouragement of the Japanese government, the area devoted to cultivation of short grain rice grew rapidly. After Taiwan reverted to Chinese rule, the acreage planted with short grain rapidly declined, and the planting of long grain rice quickly increased. Later, in order to meet demand from Japan, the government actively promoted the production of short grain rice, and cultivation increased, peaking at 660,000 hectares in 1977. Production of long grain rice, on the other hand, declined rapidly. In 1980s only some 20,000 hectares were planted with it-a level that has been maintained ever since.
With a strong foundation in agricultural research and development laid during the Japanese era, Taiwanese agriculturalists have been hard at work improving their rice stocks, employing a variety of techniques ranging from mass selection of seeds and the introduction of new varieties, to hybridization and mutation breeding. As a result, there are now more than 100 varieties of rice that have been planted in Taiwan. With the passage of time and environmental change, some of the old varieties have been eliminated, so that there are now about 20 varieties currently under cultivation. Generally speaking, before the 1980s the focus of agriculturalists was on improving production and increasing the strains' ability to withstand heat and disease, whereas since the 1980s the emphasis has been on improving quality, to make the cooked rice as succulent, firm, and delicious as possible.
Good rice close at hand
History shows that Japanese rice isn't suitable to planting in Taiwan's climate. But when the Taiwanese market was opened to imported rice and people saw that Koshihikari rice was selling at NT$250 per kilogram, it attracted some interest among farmers.
Last year the Wuchieh Rural Township Farmers' Association applied for and won a special grant from the Council of Agriculture. Upon approval, the association bought 60 kilograms of original Koshhikari stock seed and tried to plant it.
Lin A-ho, the association member who was responsible for accommodating this "fussy guest," had some six decades of experience planting rice. He specially chose some clean seed starting mix, and through crossbreeding with some disease resistant varieties produced a new strain. The process requires great meticulousness. For instance, you can't use too much fertilizer, or the rice plants will easily fall over due to the weight of the leaves and grain being too much for the stalk. Whereas if you don't use enough fertilizer, the plants will lack nourishment and the yields will suffer.
In fact, over ten years ago, there was already a small amount of Koshihikari rice being planted in Erlin, Changhua, and Chihshang, Taitung. Hung Mei-chu, the head of breeding at the Taichung District Agricultural Research and Extension Station (DARES), says that Koshihikari rice is very fragile and has low resistance to heat, pests, and disease. As a strain that requires a lot of tender loving care, it isn't suitable for Taiwanese farmers, most of whom are getting along in years.
What's more, there still exists the disparity in temperature between colder Japan and warmer Taiwan. Hung Mei-chu says that Koshihikari rice needs at least 150 days to grow in Japan, but in Taiwan, it matures in just three months, making it one of the earlier maturing varieties. As a result, farmers need to adjust the fertilization schedule.
The fact of the matter is that if consumers want to eat highest quality Koshihikari rice, they needn't go far. Among the rice grown in Taiwan that is considered of excellent quality is Taikeng 9, which represents a crossbreed of a Koshihikari cultivar with a native Taiwanese variety. Tainung 71 (Yi-chuan aromatic rice), which was crossbred in 2000, claims Kinuhikari (a descendant of Koshihikari) as its mother and the local Taikeng 4 as its father. Because it displays favorable characteristics of both parents, it has both well-shaped grains and high resistance to disease.
A trickle becomes a stream
"Taiwan's efforts to improve rice strains are oriented toward local conditions," says Chang Su-chen, director of crop improvement at the Miaoli DARES. Planting 300,000 acres with one rice variety would open the door to heavy insect damage. Hence, DARES islandwide encourage biodiversity and strictly control the amount of acreage planted with a single variety. In Taiwan, where a rice variety is typically popular for about ten years only, crop breeders will always keep busy. Taiwan's rice paddies provide more than just food for life; they offer a crystallization of human wisdom.