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Good Fruit from Bad Land—The Liji Badlands[1]

From Taiwan Panorama 
Website:  Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan)
New Southbound Policy Portal

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Liji Badlands, Taitung. (photo by Jimmy Lin)
Taiwan’s verdant East Rift Valley, the island’s largest valley, is a geological wonder that provides views of the collision of two tectonic plates, and a perspective on Taiwan’s geological history. Its Chi¬shang Fault and Liji Badlands reveal some of the mysterious ways in which natural forces shape the world, and its badlands guavas, sugar apples and ate¬moyas demonstrate that bad land put to proper use can produce excellent fruit. The valley is a good example of why French geologist Jean Aubouin calls Taiwan a geological gem.
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Visitors to the old Xiuguluan River Railway Bridge, which is now part of the Yufu Bike Path, can bestride the intersection of the Philippine Sea Plate and the Eurasian Plate like a colossus.

Setting out from Yuli Station in Hua¬lien, we cycle down the Yufu Bike Path towards the first stop on our geological journey: the old Xiu¬gu¬luan River Railway Bridge.
As we stand on the bridge, a nearby tropical depression whips wet winds back and forth over the wide river below. To our left, heavy clouds blanket the Central Mountain Range, while to our right, the skies over the Coastal Mountain Range are clear for as far as the eye can see. Traveling through weather that feels like something out of the movie Flatliners, we reach an interpretive sign placed by the Tourism Bureau’s East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration (ERVNSAA). The impressions of two footprints mark the ground in front of it, one on either side of the intersection of two tectonic plates. Taking pictures of ourselves with one foot on the Philippine Sea Plate and the other on the Eurasian Plate, we feel as if we are bestriding geological time and space.

Colliding plates
This is an imageNational Dong Hwa University professor Liou Ying-san
Liou Ying-san, a professor in the Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Department at National Dong Hwa University, helps us understand the East Rift Valley’s “geological suture.” Some six to ten million years ago, the northwest corner of the Philippine Sea Plate encountered the Eurasian Plate. Running along the eastern side of the East Rift Valley (the western side of the Coastal Mountain Range) is the geological suture resulting from the movements of these two plates.
The Yufu Bike Path offers one of the most visible signs of the forces at work. Rising by one to three centimeters every year, the path frequently buckles. Liou says this isn’t a case of shoddy work by a contractor, but rather the result of its location atop a spreading, splitting fault line.
There are many faults in the East Rift Valley, including the Rui­sui, Yuli and Chi­shang faults. A visit to the Chi­shang Story House and Tapo Elementary School will help you better understand the fault zone. Experts from the Industrial Technology Research Institute have confirmed that the split in a retaining wall at the school has been caused by the Chi­shang Fault, which is itself noteworthy for being one of the few faults to show signs of rapid movement at the surface. The fault’s movement is the reason why whenever the wall is repaired, before long it splits apart again.

Liji Badlands: Important evidence
The Liji Badlands, known to geolo­gists as the “Liji (or Li­chi) mélange,” provide another important piece of evidence that Taiwan sits at the convergent boundary between two tectonic plates: the badlands are the visible remnants of a plate subduction that began 5 million years ago. In fact, Liji’s importance to the field of geo­logy stems from the fact that it allows geologists to see “recent geo­logical evidence” on the Earth’s surface.
This is an imageThis pair of slides at Tapo Elementary School that has been lifted up by the Chishang Fault is a landmark well known to international geologists.
Liou explains that this evidence is considered “recent” only in the context of our 4.55-billion-year-old Earth and in terms of geological time, wherein processes take epochs to unfold and are dated with error bars millions of years wide. Such time­scales mean that the Liji mélange is considered “young.”
ERVNSAA director Lin Wei-ling says that the administration offers  visitors one- to three-day suggested travel itineraries for the valley floor that include the plate convergence zone as well as the valley’s people and rich produce. If travelers choose, they can explore the area in greater depth by attending the fall rice harvest or visiting an Aboriginal village.
The “badlands scenery” itinerary focuses on the landscapes around Liji and Fuyuan Villages.

Beinan River: Distant views
If you look north from Provincial Highway 9B before crossing Liji Bridge, or from Bei­nan Township’s Riverside Park, you can see the rugged badlands in the distance.
This is an imageTravelers can climb Fuyuan Village’s industrial road to a high point that overlooks large swaths of badlands scenery.
Looking west from the Bei­nan River, you can see Little Huang­shan, a badlands conglomerate formed hundreds of thousands years ago and eroded into its present shape by the wind and the flowing waters of the river.

Liji Badlands observation deck: Close contact
Once you’ve crossed Liji Bridge, take the boardwalk leading from the Liji Badlands observation deck for a closer look at badlands gullies and gorges formed by rain erosion.

Fuyuan observation deck: Distant views
If you take County Highway 197 into the mountains, you’ll see the Tai­tung Plain in the distance. On clear days, the view extends across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean to Green Island and Orchid Island.

Insider tip: A view from above
Taking the narrow, winding industrial road into the badlands, you reach a high point overlooking a deep gorge. The area is home to crested goshawks, hares, and pangolins, and early morning visitors might even catch a glimpse of Taiwan serows sashaying across a ridge. Local resident Lin Long­qing has built an eco-trail here, but it is secluded and difficult to find without the help of someone from the community.

Naming the badlands
Former Liji Village chief Zeng Jin­ren is a local intimately acquainted with the local terrain. In fact, he explored every corner of the area 30 years ago while helping the Bei­nan Township Office conduct an agricultural survey. He was also the first to promote the name “badlands.”
This is an imageFormer Liji Village chief Zeng Jinren believes that the badlands are one of the village’s best points.
“The land is rugged, uninhabited, and no good for farming. We used to call it the ‘skyscraper mountains,’ but when we held a meeting to give it a formal name, Xu Tie­liang from the geological survey suggested ‘Liji Mélange.’ I thought that sounded too academic, so I suggested ‘Liji Badlands,’ which sounded more dramatic and powerful.”
Zeng, whose Taiwanese nickname is “Really Startling” (a play on the pronunciation of his name), never imagined that the badlands name would cause a ruckus. He explains that the marketing group wasn’t thrilled with the change. “We had farmers who sold their guava under the Yan­chao brand. Some were unhappy when I began pushing the idea of rebranding our produce as ‘Badlands Guava.’ It surprised every­one when the name change led to better and better sales.”

Good fruit from bad land
This is an imageBadlands guavas are succulent and sweet.
Zeng says that the badlands are a barren land that suffers landslides after every heavy rainfall and typhoon. People had tried to cultivate the gentler slopes, but couldn’t grow anything even with constant applications of fertilizer.
“Simple farmers like us couldn’t grasp the virtues of this soil. All we knew was that the soil was hard to farm, sticky when damp and hard when dry. But sugarcane grown in it has a high sweetness index and makes very flavorful raw sugar. When researchers analyzed the soil, they discovered why: the badlands soil is rich in minerals, such as magnesium and iron, that give the crops grown in it a unique flavor.”
But you have to adapt the crops to the badlands. Farming its mudstone  soil means choosing appropriate fruits, which turned out to be guava, sugar apples, atemoya, mango, and citrus, and then asking the Council of Agriculture to provide helpful classes.
Cai ­Hongmo returned to his village and decided to take up environmentally friendly farming after retiring from San­yang Motors. He now grows guava with flesh so crisp and delicious that he can’t even keep up with the demand from his former coworkers.
Zeng says that when the Forestry Bureau decided in 2010 to create the Li­chi Badlands Geopark and involve the community in promoting it, the community supported the idea of using the park to promote the development of local businesses. Young people in Liji and other remote villages had little choice but to look outside their economically challenged communities for work, resulting in outward migration and aging populations. If the park could revive businesses and stimulate the creation of local jobs, its promotion of tourism and landscape conservation would be a win for everyone.
This is an imageBadlands star apples are a favorite of immigrants from Vietnam.
The community association worked hard to entice retired police officers and other former residents to come back and farm, and encouraged farmers to turn to Taiwanese Aborigines in nearby villages for help during busy periods. When sales of badlands fruits picked up, Aborigines who had been working only part time started their own farms, replanting fallow and abandoned paddies.
Zeng says that where Liji’s farmers used to have to look elsewhere for part-time work, they now scour surrounding villages for help during the agricultural high season.
Locals are proud of their work with the geopark to promote the development of the local economy, and to produce good people and good fruit from the badlands. The success of Liji’s agriculture and Fu­yuan’s ecotours proves that residents can peacefully coexist with the Earth. 


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