Taiwanese drought drops chip makers for farmers

Hsinchu, Taiwan — Chuang Cheng-deng’s modest rice farm is just a stone’s throw from the heart of Taiwan’s computer chip industry. Its products support most of the iPhone and other gadgets in the world.

This year, Mr. Chuan is paying the price of the financial importance of his tech neighbor. Suffering from drought and scrambling to save water in homes and factories, Taiwan has cut off irrigation on tens of thousands of acres of farmland.

Authorities are compensating producers for lost income. But 55-year-old Chuan is worried that if the harvest is hampered, customers will be looking for other suppliers, which could lead to a decline in revenue for years.

“The government is spending money to shut the farmers’ mouths,” he said, investigating a dry brown field.

Authorities call drought the worst in Taiwan for more than half a century. It also reveals the major challenges associated with hosting the island’s semiconductor industry, which is becoming an increasingly indispensable node in the global supply chain for smartphones, automobiles and other modern life.

Chip makers use large amounts of water to clean factories and wafers, which are thin slices of silicon that form the basis of chips.And with semiconductor supply all over the world Already nervous With soaring demand for electronics, increasing uncertainty about Taiwan’s water supply could not alleviate concerns that the technology world is dependent on the island, especially one chip maker. .. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company..

More than 90% of the world’s cutting-edge chip manufacturing capacity is in Taiwan and is operated by TSMC, which manufactures chips for Apple. Intel And other big names. The company announced last week that it would invest $ 100 billion over the next three years to increase capacity. This could further strengthen its overwhelming presence in the market.

TSMC says the drought has not affected its production so far. However, Taiwan’s rainfall is unpredictable as its technology industry grows, so the island needs to grow longer and longer to keep it flowing.

In recent months, the government has Flying surface And Burned chemicals Plant clouds above the reservoir.It built Seawater desalination plant In Hsinchu, where TSMC’s headquarters are located pipeline It connects the city with the rainy north. It ordered the industry to reduce its use.It has in some places Water pressure drop And I started to stop the supply for two days every week. Some companies, including TSMC, carry truck-loaded water from other regions.

But the most drastic measure is to stop irrigation, which has implications. 183,000 acres It is about one-fifth of the irrigated land in Taiwan.

“TSMC and those semiconductors aren’t feeling this at all,” said Tian Shou-shi, 63, a rice farmer in Hsinchu. “We farmers just want to be able to live an honest life.”

In an interview, Wang Yi, Deputy Director of the Water Resources Agency of Taiwan, defended government policy, saying that dry spells mean poor harvests despite access to irrigation. He said diversion of scarce water to farms rather than factories or homes would “lose-lose.”

When asked about water issues by farmers, TSMC spokeswoman Kao Nina said that efficient use of water was “very important for industries and businesses”. business To increase irrigation efficiency.

The lack of water in Taiwan, one of the wettest places in the developed world, is a tragic paradox.

Most of the water used by the inhabitants is deposited by summer typhoons. However, storms also send soil that flows down from the mountainous regions of Taiwan into its reservoirs. As a result, the amount of water that the reservoir can hold is gradually decreasing.

Rain also fluctuates greatly from year to year. During the rainy season last year, no typhoon landed for the first time since 1964.

Taiwan finally stopped large-scale irrigation to save water 2015, And 2004 before that.

“If the same situation reoccurs a few more years later, we can say,’Oh, Taiwan has definitely entered an era of major water shortages,'” said You Jiing-yun, a professor of civil engineering at National Taiwan University. It was. “Please wait and see now.”

In 2019, TSMC’s facility in Hsinchu consumed 63,000 tonnes of water a day. According to the company, Or more than 10 percent of the supply from two local reservoirs, Takarayama and Takarayama No. 2 Reservoir. TSMC says it saved 3.6 million tonnes more than the previous year by recycling more than 86% of the water from its manufacturing process that year, increasing recycling and adopting other new measures. However, the amount is still the lowest after the 63 million tons consumed in 2019 for the entire facility in Taiwan.

Chuan’s business partner in Hsinchu’s farm, Kuo Yurin, doesn’t like to demonize the tip industry.

“If the Hsinchu Science Park hadn’t been developed as it is today, we wouldn’t have been able to run a business,” said Guo, 32, referring to the city’s major industrial areas. She said TSMC engineers are an important customer of their rice.

But Kuo said it was wrong to blame the farmers for swallowing water, even though they made little financial contribution.

“Can we just and accurately explain how much water farms use and how much fisheries use and always blame agriculture?” She said.

The “biggest problem” behind Taiwan’s water problem is that the government keeps water prices too low, said Professor Xiaowen, a hydroengineering professor at National Cheng Kung University. This encourages waste.

Taiwanese households use about 75 gallons of water per person per day. Government figures Performance..According to most Western Europeans use less, but Americans use more. World Bank data..

“Adjusting water prices has a significant impact on the more vulnerable groups of society, so we are very careful when making adjustments,” said Wang of the Water Resources Agency.Taiwan premiere Said last month The government will consider imposing additional charges on factories that consume 1,800 large amounts of water.

Lee Hong Yuan, a former Taiwanese interior minister and professor of hydropower engineering, has also blamed the bureaucratic swamp that has made it difficult to build new wastewater recycling plants and modernize pipeline networks.

“Every other small country is very flexible,” said Lee, but “we have the operating logic of a large country.” This was the Taiwanese government decades ago in China. He believes it was because it was founded after the civil war in China with the purpose of governing the whole of China. Since then, I have abandoned that ambition, but not bureaucracy.

Southwestern Taiwan is both an agricultural center and an industrial center. TSMC State-of-the-art chip equipment It is located in a city in the southern part of Tainan.

The nearby Zenwen Reservoir has shrunk into a swamp stream in some parts. Along the scenic strip known as Lovers Park, the reservoir floor offers vast moon views.According to, the amount of water is about 11.6 percent of the capacity Government data..

In rural areas near Tainan, he said, at least for now, many producers are happy to live on the government dime. They remove weeds from the fallow. They drink tea with their friends and ride long bicycles.

But they are also considering their future. The Taiwanese people seem to have decided that rice cultivation is less important than semiconductors for both the island and the world. Heaven, or at least greater economic power, seems to say it’s time for farmers to find other jobs.

“Fertilizers are becoming more and more expensive. Pesticides are becoming more and more expensive,” said rice farmer She Tsaishan, 74. “Being a farmer is really the worst.”

After appearing in a documentary on changes in the lives of farmers, the village of Jinliao, which has become a popular tourist attraction, is surrounded by peaceful farmland.

There is only one cow left in the town. Instead of plowing the fields, we spend our days attracting visitors.

“Around here, 70 people are considered young,” said Yang Kuei-chuan, 69, a rice farmer.

Both of Yang’s sons work for an industrial company.

“If Taiwan had no industry and depended on agriculture, we could all have been hungry and dead,” said Yang.

Taiwanese drought drops chip makers for farmers

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