About Tomatoes and Taiwan

We are pleased to invite scientists, technicians, teachers, students, tomato producers and others with an interest in tomato diseases to the ISHS VIth International Symposium on Tomato Diseases in Taichung, Taiwan from 6-9 May 2019. Held every three years, this symposium brings together about 150 to 200 international experts from different fields to disseminate their progress and facilitate the exchange of research and ideas. Symposium presentations on the theme of Managing tomato diseases in the face of globalization and climate change will illuminate how higher temperatures, more intense heat waves and longer periods of drought, change in precipitation patterns, more frequent wildfires, and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms are fostering the development and spread of tomato diseases and altering pest behavior and distribution.

The island state of Taiwan is known officially as the Republic of China (ROC). The main island lies about 175 km across the Taiwan Strait off the east coast of mainland China and straddles the Tropic of Cancer. It has an area of about 36,000 sq km (about 394 km north to south and 144 km east to west), with the eastern two-thirds consisting of five rugged mountain ranges running north-south. As only the low gently sloping plains of the western third of the island are suitable for industry or agriculture, this is where most of the population lives and works. The location and topography mean the northern and central regions are subtropical, the south is tropical and the mountainous regions are temperate.

Through rapid industrialization and growth over the last 40 years, Taiwan has transformed into a thriving export-driven economy; it is considered one of the four “Asian Tigers”. The population has grown from 16.71 million in 1977 to 23.43 million in 2015. Intensive urbanization accompanied this growth: Less than 44% of the population lived in urban locations in 1977; by 2015, 77% was urban. The contribution of the agricultural sector to GDP fell from about 30% to less than 2% and arable land area fell from 793,000 hectares to 594,000 hectares. The proportion of land used for vegetable production increased to a peak of about 70,000 hectares in the early 1980s and has fluctuated between 60,000 and 66,000 hectares since then.

Tomatoes were first imported to Taiwan by the Dutch during their occupation in the early 1600s, and remain a popular fruit-vegetable. The area of land used for tomato production peaked at about 12,400 hectares in 1984, but then declined to an average of about 4,500 hectares from 1993 until now, with production fluctuating between 24 and 30 tons per hectare. Average farm size is about 0.7 hectares, and tomato producers often join cooperatives to supply tomatoes to specific outlets. Tomato production has become a relatively sophisticated industry. The trend towards growing tomatoes under protected conditions in poly-net tunnels rather than in the open field, which started in the northern production areas, is now spreading further south. Most farmers purchase tomato seedlings from specialist nurseries, and there is also a trend towards using grafted plants to manage diseases and to improve fruit quality. Most tomatoes grown in Taiwan are traded as fresh fruit and consumed raw as a dessert or part of a salad, or cooked. There is limited tomato production for large scale commercial processing.

Perhaps because of island’s long history of tomato cultivation, the frequent waves of immigration from mainland China, and Taiwan being a major shipping and trading hub in East Asia, many of the pests and diseases affecting tomato in other parts of the world have been introduced into Taiwan and threaten production. Some of the important diseases include the begomoviruses and emerging Crinivirus, bacterial wilt and bacterial spot, late blight and early blight, Fusarium wilt, Southern blight and Stemphylium leaf spot. Taiwan has a well-developed and high quality agricultural and horticultural research system and infrastructure, and there are many different organizations carrying out basic and applied research and development activities on diseases and pests of tomato, including universities, government agencies, and private seed companies.