Taiwan’s Drought Pits Chip Makers Against Farmers

HSINCHU, Taiwan – A stone is thrown from the nerve center of Taiwan’s computer chip industry in Chuang Cheng-deng’s modest rice farm, whose products form a large part of the world’s iPhones and other gadgets.

This year, Mr. Chuang is paying the price for the economic importance of his high-tech neighbors. Fed up with drought and scuffles to conserve water from homes and factories, Taiwan has stopped irrigating tens of thousands of acres of farmland.

Officials are compensating producers for lost income. But Mr. Chuang, 55, expressed concern that the boiled crop would prompt customers to seek other suppliers, which could mean years of depressed earnings.

“The government is using the money to silence the farmers,” he said.

Authorities are calling Taiwan the worst of the drought in more than half a century. And it is highlighting the enormous challenges involved in hosting the island’s semiconductor industry, which is an increasingly indispensable node in global supply chains for smartphones, cars and other keystones of modern life.

Chip manufacturers use a lot of water to clean their factories and wafers, thin slices of silicon that form the basis of chips. And with worldwide semiconductor supplies Already stressed As demand for electronics increases, uncertainty about Taiwan’s water supply is unlikely to increase, particularly to ease concerns about the world’s dependence on the island and in particular on a chipmaker: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

More than 90 percent of the world’s manufacturing capacity for the most advanced chips is in Taiwan and operated by TSMC, which manufactures chips for Apple, Intel And other big names. The company said last week that it would invest $ 100 billion over the next three years to increase capacity, possibly further strengthening its commanding presence in the market.

TSMC says that the drought has not affected its production so far. But even with Taiwan’s rainfall being a no-no forecast, its tech industry flourishes, the island has to go to greater lengths to keep the water flowing.

In recent months, the government has Flown aircraft And Burnt chemicals To seed the clouds above the reservoir. made it up Seawater desalination plant In Hsinchu, the home of TSMC’s headquarters, and a line pipe Connects the city with the rainy north. It has ordered industries to cut usage. In some places it is Low water pressure And started shutting down supplies for two days each week. Some companies, including TSMC, have disrupted truckloads of water from other areas.

But the most comprehensive measure is a ban on irrigation, which affects 183,000 acres Of farmland, about one-fifth of Taiwan’s irrigated land.

“TSMC and those semiconductor people, they don’t feel any at all on it,” said 63-year-old rice producer Tian Shou-shi in Hininchu. “We farmers just want to be able to live an honest life.”

In an interview, the deputy director of Taiwan’s Water Resources Agency, Wang Yi-feng, defended the government’s policies, stating that the drought meant that the crop would deteriorate even with the use of irrigation. He said that it would be “kho-kho” to deliver scarce water to farms instead of factories and homes.

TSMC spokeswoman Nina Cao, when asked about farmers’ water woes, said that it is “very important for every industry and company to use water” Assignment or Project To increase irrigation capacity.

That Taiwan, one of the most developed places in the world, contradicts the tragedy due to water scarcity.

Most of the water used by residents is deposited by summer typhoons. But these storms send soil from Taiwan’s mountainous areas to their reservoirs. This has gradually reduced the amount of water in the reservoirs.

Rainfall is also highly variable from year to year. There was not a single thunderstorm during the last year’s rains, which first occurred in 1964.

Taiwan stopped large-scale irrigation to conserve water 2015And earlier in 2004.

“If in another two or three years, the same conditions reappear, we can say, ‘Ah, Taiwan has definitely entered an era of water scarcity,” a civil engineering at National Taiwan University Professor Yu Jing-yun said. “Right now, it’s waiting and watching.”

In 2019, TSMC facilities 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, Baoshan and Baoshan II reservoir. TSMC recycled more than 86 percent of its water from manufacturing processes that year, it said, and conserved 3.6 million tons more than before, by increasing recycling and adopting other new measures. But the amount is still small next to the 63 million tonnes that it consumed in its Taiwan facilities in 2019.

Mr. Chuang’s business partner at Kuo Yu-ling’s farm in Hsinchu does not like the performance of the chip industry.

Referring to the city’s major industrial area, Ms. Kuo, 32, said, “If the Hanshu Science Park had not developed like it is today, we would not have been in business.” TSMC engineers are important customers for their rice, she said.

But it is also wrong, Ms. Koo said, to accuse farmers of snatching water while contributing less financially.

“Can we not get a fair and accurate account of how well we use water fields and how much water the industry uses and does not taint agriculture all the time?” he said.

The “biggest problem” behind Taiwan’s water crisis is that Wang Hisiao-wen, a professor of hydraulic engineering at the government National Cheng Kung University, said the water rate is too low. This promotes wastage.

Households in Taiwan use about 75 gallons of water per person per day, Official data Display. Most Western Europeans use less than this, although Americans use more accordingly World bank statistics.

Mr Wang of the Water Resources Agency said: “Adjusting water prices has a big impact on the more vulnerable groups of society, so we are extremely cautious when making adjustments.” Head of taiwan Said last month The government will consider imposing additional duties on 1,800 water-intensive factories.

Li Hong-yuan, a hydraulic engineering professor who previously served as Taiwan’s interior minister, also blames a bureaucratic ethic that makes it harder to build new wastewater recycling plants and modernize pipeline networks .

“Other small countries are very flexible,” Mr. Lee said. They believe this is because the Taiwanese government was established decades ago with the goal of ruling the whole of China after the Chinese Civil War. It has shed that ambition, but not the bureaucracy.

Taiwan’s southwest is both an agricultural area and a growing hub of industry. Belongs to TSMC Most advanced chip facilities Are in the southern city of Tainan.

The nearby Tsengwen reservoir has in some parts shrunk into a marshy stream. A beautiful strip known as Lovers Park, the floor of the reservoir has become a huge moon. The volume of water is about 11.6 percent by capacity Government data.

In the farming towns near Tainan, many producers said they were living on government time, at least for now. They clean weeds from their fallen fields. They drink tea with friends and go on long bike rides.

But they are also backtracking on their promise. The Taiwanese public has decided that rice cultivation is less important for both the island and the world than for semiconductors. Akash – or the larger economic force, at least – seems to be telling farmers that it is time to find other work.

“Fertilizer is becoming more expensive. Pesticides are becoming more expensive. “Being a farmer is really the worst.”

After appearing in a documentary about the changing lives of farmers, Serine Farmland remains around the village of Jingliano.

There is only one cow left in the city. It spends its days pulling tourists, not plowing fields.

“There are about 70 youth here,” said Yang Kui-chuan, 69, a rice farmer.

Both of Mr. Yang’s sons work for industrial companies.

“If Taiwan had no industry and depended on agriculture, we could all die by now,” Mr. Yang said.

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