In six years since the rise of leisure farms in Taiwan, which combine tourism and folk arts teaching programs, such facilities have become the country's top attraction for visitors from Southeast Asia.
According to the Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association, numbers of visits by foreign tourists to the farms reached a new high of over 140,000 in 2010, doubling the figure recorded in 2009.
Among these visits, 70 percent were made by Malaysians and Singaporeans of Chinese descent, the association said.
"The huge attraction of leisure farms has prompted travel agencies to include them in their tour itineraries," said Fu Chung-ling, general manager of Sunshine Hong Thai Travel Service in Taiwan.
Chuo Chih-cheng, owner of the Toucheng Leisure Farm in northeastern Taiwan's Yilan County, said the Southeast Asian Chinese are interested in farm activities such as raising livestock because they share similar cultural backgrounds with the Taiwanese.
Chuo's 100-hectare farm had 8,000 foreign visits last year, most of them by tourists from the two Southeast Asian countries.
Professor Chen Chao-lang of National Taiwan University said the Council of Agriculture began helping farmers transform their operations in 1990, based on the leisure farm trend emerging in Germany and Japan at that time.
However, the hospitable and innovative farmers in Taiwan have created local features distinguishing themselves from leisure farms in those two countries, said association official Chiu Hsiang-ling.
"Unlike in Germany and Japan, meals with local characteristics and accommodation services are Taiwanese farms' unique features," according to Chiu.
With the number of leisure farms having risen from 33 in 2000 to 250 today, limited growth in the number of domestic visitors has made operators turn to overseas markets.
In 2002, Chang Ching-lai, owner of the Shangri-La Leisure Farm in Yilan County, first found out about the high interest of foreigners in such tour experiences when he went to travel fairs abroad with Taiwan's Tourism Bureau.
The association then organized the first joint campaign of farms in 2004, promoting package tours at tourism fairs in Southeast Asia and establishing the brand of Taiwanese farms.
Now, the success of such farms in the past few years has caught the attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is considering bringing the model to the country's foreign diplomatic allies.
Since the introduction of the business model for leisure farms 20 years ago, Taiwan now is ready to share its experience with others, reflecting how Taiwanese farmers' ability to adapt has helped begin a new possibility for the country's agricultural sector. (Global Views Monthly 300)(translated by Kay Liu)