Promoting Under-Forest Economy under the concept of Satoyama Initiative: A Case Study of Wutai Township, Pingtung County, Chinese Taipei



  • National Pingtung University of Science and Technology (NPUST); Forestry Bureau, Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan, Chinese Taipei; Ministry of Education, Chinese Taipei; National Dong-Hwa University (NDHU), Chinese Taipei; Taiwan Forestry Research Institute, Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan, Chinese Taipei


  • 31/12/2018


  • Eastern Asia


  • Chinese Taipei (Wutai Township, Pingtung County)


  • Under the influence of extreme climate change and severe population migration, how to maintain living conditions, preserve traditional knowledge, and encourage young people to return home is a very important issue. The "Under-Forest Economy", which replaces deforestation with the development of forest by-products, is an important strategy that has been promoted by the Taiwan government in recent years to aid the local area’s cultural. social and economic development. In order to help the Rukai people in Wutai Township, the research team and the Rukai people work together to promote the under-forest economy, marketing and selling eco-friendly agricultural and livestock products.


  • Community forestry, Under-Forest Economy, Ecotourism, Collaborative management


  • Dr. Meihui Chen, Professor, National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, Chinese Taipei, corresponding author

Summary Sheet

The summary sheet for this case study is available here.


Forests are of great importance to humans and animals. Forests can fulfil numerous important functions, including homing to people, native plants and animals, conserving biological diversity and preserve aboriginal inheritance. Taiwan is 60% forest, and its natural environment is rich and varied. However, the areas surrounding forests are often weak in economic activity and are marginalised. Nowadays, under the influence of extreme climate change and severe population migration, how to maintain living conditions, preserve traditional knowledge, and encourage young people to return home is a very important issue. The “under-forest economy”, which replaces deforestation with the development of forest by-products, is an important strategy that has been promoted by the Taiwan government in recent years to aid the local area’s cultural, social and economic development.

Introduction to the social and environmental conditions in Wutai

Wutai district (Vedai in the Rukai language) has a total area of roughly 280 square kilometres, with an average elevation of more than 1,000 meters, and the forest coverage is nearly 98%. There is no railway or highway system cutting in the territory, and there is no large-scale development and construction, thus maintaining the most complete traditional aboriginal areas. According to official statistics from 2018, the population of Wutai Township is about 3,400. The main ethnic group is the Taiwanese aborigines, the Rukai, accounting for 99%. Wutai is the centre of the Rukai ethnic group culture in Taiwan.

Wutai Township, except for some of the Aboriginal reservations, is mostly a national forest. The surrounding environment is an ecosystem consisting of secondary forests connecting agricultural land and streams, a diverse and rich habitat, and a variety of natural resources. It is a hunting ground for tribal traditions. At present, most of the inhabitants plant traditional crops such as millet, red quinoa, taro, and peas, and conduct small family-style breeding of mountain pigs, chickens or hunt for survival.

The Goal

There are six villages in Wutai Township. Four villages moved to flat land houses which provided by government after 2009 Typhoon Morakot disaster. The life of the community has gradually stabilised in the eight years after the disaster; however, considerable difficulties, such as employment issue, restriction of livestock and crops farming, loss of traditional values and customs, have emerged over last ten years.

In order to help the Rukai people with their livelihood, the research team and the Rukai people work together to promote the “under-forest economy”, grow traditional plants and mushrooms, farm chicken, keep bees, market and sell these eco-friendly agricultural products. The objectives of “under-forest economy” project are as follows:

With the agricultural research strengths of National Pingtung University of Science and Technology (NPUST), combined with the specialty experiments of Taiwan Forestry Research Institute and Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, develop the practice of government-industry-university-institute alliance. We give cultivation advises to community people, lower the technical threshold and encourage young people to join the under-forest growing and farming work.

Develop eco-tourism and environmental education programs for eco-friendly farming and other under-forest activities, cooperate with NPUST students on activity planning, create tribal characteristics projects, such as tribal study tours, farmers’ markets, and working holidays.

Strengthen the competitiveness of Wutai agricultural and livestock products, cooperate with the food and beverage department and food processing plants, develop health-oriented processed products, package and market high-quality agricultural products, establish “Traceable Agricultural Products”(TAP) system and delivery mechanisms, and add economic value to local communities.

Activities and Results

We collaborate with research institute, government, teachers and students of NPUST from different departments to develop the interdisciplinary talent education and six-grade industry of the tribal communities, including growing forest produce (primary sector), manufacturing and food processing: (secondary sector) and foodservice and marketing (tertiary sector). This project focuses on under-forest cultivation, environmental friendly production, forest brand building and connect them into a complete local circular economy system. We believe that only putting every effort into service and detail, from the production to marketing, will the under-forest industry last forever. Thus, the young population have the confidence to return home.

Growing Under-forest Chinese Herbs

The production program is mainly for Taiwan native crops cultivation, including Angelica(Peucedanum formosanum Hay), Polyghace Seche (Polygonatum odoratum), and Taiwan jewel orchid(Anoectochilus formosanus Hayata). Since Taiwanese people pay considerable attention to staying fit and healthy these years, the demand for Chinese herbal medicine has greatly increased.

Seeing that Taiwanese people like to add natural Chinese medicine and herbs into food to keep healthy, planting Chinese herbal medicines in tribal areas has become a important issue. As well as being sold to Taiwanese customers, herbs have been added to indigenous meals. Also, because the tribe’s farming does not use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the process of planting Chinese herbs is very natural, which ensures its safety and purity.

NPUST students and Wutai community people cultivate Chinese herbal medicines such as Taiwan Anoectochilus, Peucedanum Formosanum and Fragrant Landpick.

In 2013, the NPUST team began to assist Wutai communities to expand the area of medicinal plant cultivation, conduct training courses and practice workshops, establish a small forest cultivation demonstration area under the forest. We focus on Angelica and Polyghace Seche planting, conducting genomic identification and construct the bioinformatic database of traditional Taiwanese medicine.

The NPUST team analyses its composition and function characteristics year by year, and moves toward a mature establishment of a stable, high-performance crop production model. We also cooperate with the Department of Food Science, the Department of Food and Beverage Management, the Department of Enterprise Management, and the Food Processing Plant of NPUST to develop products with market segmentation and differentiation, and gradually improve the community industry and promoting sustainable rural economic development

The community grows traditional crops (red quinoa and millet) which are used as daily staple foods or become processed products such as cinabu.

Under-forest bee farming

The community forestry research team has pass on under-forest beekeeping experience to Wutai communities since May 2018.

Due to the large number of wild plants in Wutai, different plants bloom in all seasons, and the environmental climate is suitable for beekeeping. Since 2018, the team has started beekeeping experiments with two residents of the Ali community in Wutai Township. They carefully studied beekeeping technology to gradually establish a management mechanism for tribal beekeeping. In addition, the bees need enough honey plants in the surrounding area to gather pollen. Therefore, the team also regularly conduct surveys on the types, distribution and flowering cycles of the honey plants which is surrounded by the communities and record the source data of honey powder and honey itself.

Chicken under the forest: Labuwan chicken

We use the under-forest environment to raise chickens and provide a source of food protein during typhoon season.

After the May 8th typhoon disaster and tribal traditional hunting was disrupted, the Labuwan were expected to have a more stable source of meat and protein to supply the preschool children and the elderly. The method of low-intensity and free-range chicken rearing under the forest is implemented and which coexist with the surrounding forest environment, meet the regional tribal food demands, provide economic resources for aboriginal people and supply consumers with excellent chicken quality. In addition, the wood chips from the NPUST Internship Wood Factory can reduce the dampness of the chicken manure, and after two or three months of fermentation, the appropriate amount of organic fertiliser is applied to the soil to produce good crops such as millet and red quinoa.

Chickens are fed with the harvested red quinoa stem.

Since 2014, the team of NPUST introduced professional resources such as animal husbandry and veterinary medicine and introduced the Taiwanese “Red Feather Chicken” variety, which was first bred in the 1980s at the National Chung Hsing University, to assist the Labuwan in the development of “Labuwan Chicken” without damaging the environment. The principle of recycling natural resources, using the seedlings of millet and red quinoa to feed the chickens. The snails that often endanger the red quinoa and vegetable seedlings are caught to fed chicken. While the chickens’ droppings are used as fertiliser for the millet and red quinoa. In addition to meeting the needs of the community, the chickens are also sold to the general public and have assumed important roles in ecotourism food packages. After years of hard work, the brand image and reputation have gradually been established.

Under-forest mushroom cultivation

Under-forest mushroom is developed by utilising the high humidity, sufficient oxygen, low light intensity and small temperature difference between day and night. This environment is common where the Wutai community lives. Therefore, in Wutai the cultivation of the mushroom under the forest is promoted. The team uses the millet rod and the red mast to make the mushroom “space bag”, which creates a circular economy and develops Labuwan mushroom as a traceable agricultural product.

Foreign students’ are invited to experience Labuwen forest mushroom farming activity to enhance the international popularity of tribal ecotourism.

Construction of the forest brand

For many years, the Rukai people in Wutai planted crops without using any pesticides, cultivated by natural farming methods, and weeding only using lawn mowers or by hand. In order to increase the economic value of agricultural products and gain the trust of consumers, we cooperated with a local organization, Wutai Township Ali Community Development Association. Since 2015, we have assisted a total of seven tribal farmers to apply for organic certification and the verification area is up to 2.5224 hectares. Additionally, the Labuwan community in Wutai Township has 1.0756 ha farmland passed the organic verification and the forest ecological brand is created in this process.

Forest product development

NPUST combines resources such as Department of Forestry, Department of Hotel and Restaurant Management, and Food Processing Plant to simulate a certificated Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) product. We work together to create various processed products and give guidance for farmers on packaging and selling their products for commercial purpose. We also label the nutritional components of every product, and then analyse its specific active ingredients to highlight the characteristics of local products and increase its economic value. The products launched include: Labuwan chicken, Labuwan egg, Labuwan fresh mushroom floss, Labuwan mushroom vegetable soup, black fungus juice, forest honey, honey lemon pound cake, honey quinoa scone, honey red quinoa bread, honey lemon cheesecake, honey lemon ice cream, red quinoa bread and more.

Tribal forest farmers’ market

We held a tribal market and millet festival. God was thanked for providing millet, the most important crop of the Rukai people, and for keeping the peace and prosperity of the people.

The Ali community is an ancient branch of Rukai Family. Although the community was moved to flats due to the Morakot disaster, their Millet Harvest Festival was not disrupted. In 2018, NPUST, Ali community, Jilu community, and Shanchuan Liuli Bridge Cooperative(山川琉璃吊橋旅遊服務合作社) worked together to organize a farmers’ market. The Millet Harvest Festival and Wutai Tribal Market are arranged in both Chinese and Rukai’s mother language. The exhibition includes tribal food, handicrafts and special agricultural products to promote tribal agricultural products and Rukai culture.

Under-forest ecotourism

The promotion of tribal ecotourism assists local young people to return to their hometown to try to manage tribal traditional industry.

The team has long promoted working holidays and ecotourism tour in Wutai, including the project “Following in the Footsteps of Limuasa—Labuwan Hunter Trail Restoring Working Holiday”, which is held with Taiwan Thousand Miles Trail Association, the Red Quinoa Farming Experience Tour, the Ali Community Red Plum Harvest Holiday and more. Additionally, 19 international students from 10 different countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Mongolia, Nepal, Malaysia, India, were invited into the Labuwan community to participate in under-forest farming and planting in 2018. And 5 young people from Labuwan served as lecturers and guided foreign students to walk the community, make garlands, make Rukai traditional food, grow medicinal herbs, collect eggs from the Labuwan chicken farm, make easy compost and make mushroom grow bags. Through these activities, foreign friends gained a deep understanding of the culture and life of Labuwan, glimpsed the community’s typhoon rebuilding process, and learned how to reuse the tribal ecological knowledge and develop a circular economy system.

Lessons learned and Conclusion

(1) Encouraging students to participate in the local industry, accumulating professional experience and combining practical and theoretical experience

Since 2016, three under-forest teaching bases have been established (the Daren forest mushroom farm, the NPUST forest bee farm, and the Wutai forest crop cultivation experimental site). These bases have hosted beekeeping classes, allowed 30 tribal people and 27 NPUST students studying together. We acted as the counsellors to help community to build tribal industry and create economic benefit that have been fed back to the community itself.

(2) Making actual contribution and value to the development of the Wutai under-forest economy

Through the maintenance of farming and the development of the under-forest economy, Wutai Township rebuilds the self-sufficient lifestyle. At present, when a moderate typhoon strikes, the tribe can already have enough food to live in peace. Even if the road which connects to the city is interrupted, there is no need to evacuate. This is especially in response to one of the actions of the Satoyama initiative, which has made the tribe more “resilient”. In addition, we made good use of our professional strength to plan the environmental education programs, hold workshops which combine the concept of ecotourism under-forest economy, and promote Wutai Under-Forest Economy Program to let the outside world understand its value.

(3) Deepening the local industry in the form of innovative courses

We implement our professional skills to Wutai Township and help communities create their economy that belongs to the communities’s cultural knowledge and experience. NPUST also recruits students to participate in the forest through formal courses such as “Community Forestry”, “Community Forestry and Internship”, “Recreational Recreation Planning and Management”, “Under Forest Economy”, “Agricultural Forestry” and “Forest Care”. The establishment and management of the economic education base also enable students to learn the professional knowledge of the under-forest economy. The students gather learning outcomes into student practical essays and teaching manuals. This not only enhances students’ willingness to participate, but also use in teachers’ follow-up teaching.

(4) Implementing the spirit of the Satoyama Initiative

The Satoyama Initiative emphasises the friendly connection between residents and land. These years, the Rukai people create a better model of forest governance with government through revitalizing traditional ecological knowledge, integrating traditional and contemporary forest management methods (ecological surveys, monitoring) and ensuring the sustainability of resource use. This knowledge and technologies can not only protect the environment inside the communities, but also can expand and set a good example for the communities which are surrounding by the state-owned forest land and provide some suggestion to state’s collaborative forest management.

The Practice Strategy of Satoyama Initiative in Wutai