In the 1950s, 90 percent of Taiwan's residents lived in farming communities growing rice, sugar, tea, camphor, and other crops. Two decades later, the government aggressively pursued industrialization, causing agricultural exports to fall behind agricultural imports. By 1999, agriculture constituted only 3 percent of Taiwan's GDP compared with 32.2 percent in 1952. Although the total area under cultivation decreased by one-third between the 1960s and the 1990s, the value of agricultural output to the national economy has increased by half because of improvements in overall productivity. Taiwan's biggest export markets are Japan, Hong Kong, and the United States.
In 1998, rice was Taiwan's most valuable crop, followed by betel nuts, corn, sugar cane, mangos, water-melons, tea, pineapples, pears, and grapes. In the 2 crop seasons of 1998, Taiwan harvested 1.49 million tons of brown rice. According to the Taiwan Provincial Department of Food (TPDF), this was more than was needed to meet local demand. The oversupply of rice is expected to peak as Taiwan braces itself for intensive competition from foreign rice imports as the country moves toward membership in the WTO.
Next to hogs, rice, and chickens, betel nuts rank as Taiwan's fourth most valuable farm product according to TPDF. Demand steadily increased in the 1990s, resulting in the expansion of areas cultivated for betel nuts. In 1997, 56,300 hectares of land were planted with betel nuts and produced almost 156,000 metric tons. Farmers were keen to plant betel nuts because, in a good year, the income can be 10 times higher than that from growing rice.
In 1998, 178,000 hectares of land were devoted to vegetable cultivation, which yielded 2,872,571 metric tons of produce. More than 100 kinds of vegetables are grown in Taiwan. The primary vegetables grown in planted areas are bamboo shoots, watermelon, leafy vegetables, vegetable soybeans, cabbage, cantaloupe, garlic, scallions, celery cabbage, Chinese cabbage, and radishes.
Taiwan produces 30 varieties of fruit, including apples, pears, peaches, citrus fruits, bananas, pineapples, lychees, longans, mangos, papayas, persimmons, loquats, and guavas. The main crops are citrus, mangos, lychees, bananas, pineapples, wax apples, and Asian pears. Pineapples and lychees are canned to satisfy domestic and international demand, while other fruits are processed into juice for local consumption.