The local moral world and agricultural activities of the committed organic farmer: A case study from an Atayal Community in Shilei, Jianshi Township, Xinzhu

Hung Yu Ru, En Chia Lo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Shilei is an important community producing organic crops in Xinzhu County in northern Taiwan. The Atayal, one of the indigenous peoples in Taiwan, make up the main population of the community. Currently, ninety percent of the Atayal farmers are engaging in organic farming in Shilei. The purpose of this study is to explore the relationships between the motivations for converting to organic from conventional farming and the local moral world of the Atayal community. Special attention is given to: (1) the factors that contribute to shaping the local moral world of the Atayal in Shilei; and (2) how the local moral world influences the cognitive processes, behaviors, and material creations of committed organic farmers when they engage in organic farming. Two years of fieldwork were carried out between 2010 and 2012. In-depth interviews and participant observation took place in the contexts of the Atayal households, organic farms and churches to study the Atayal foodways related to organic farming during the fieldwork. In addition, a number of church archives were collected for studying the history of the Charismatic Movement that took place in Shilei between the 1970s and the 1980s. Our study results show that the motivations of converting to organic farming include deteriorated health status, the degradation of the local eco-system and a poor economic condition in general. And yet, the organic farmers are not a homogenous group in terms of their attitudes, preferences, and goals of practicing organic farming. The local moral world, shaped by Christianity, the experiences of social suffering, and structural violence, has a great influence on converting to and practicing organic farming among the Atayal. Notably, the norms and values of the local moral world guide the committed organic farmers' behaviors and material creations related to the production and marketing of organic crops, and lead this type of organic farmer to a strong motivation to produce organic crops continuously. Since the committed organic farmer has successfully created new organic technologies by adopting both the local and the Korean knowledge and skills of organic farming, and effective and efficient marketing strategies of selling organic crops, s/he has become a model for those who plan to convert to organic farming. In addition, due to her/ his Christian identity and experiences of social suffering, the committed organic farmer possesses the spirit of altruism and becomes a promoter of organic farming by sharing the organic technologies s/he created with the other farmers in the community. Consequently, the committed organic farmer within a strong local moral world plays a significant role in the promotion of organic farming in Shilei. According to this study, supporting the committed organic farmer is the priority for the development of sustainable agriculture in the indigenous community. We suggest that the government should create a friendly policy with respect to the local moral world for facilitating the committed organic farmer to create the knowledge and skills of organic farming by adopting the local and modern knowledge. Also, the government should help sell the organic crops produced by the committed organic farmer on the market. With these measures, sustainable development of organic farming may be expected to take place in the indigenous community in the near future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-130
Number of pages52
JournalTaiwan Journal of Anthropology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Atayal
  • Christianity
  • Committed organic farmer
  • Local moral world
  • Organic farming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology


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