Our city has a lot of labels, from commercial and financial hub to shoppers’ paradise; but no one calls it an agricultural centre. The government is proposing to redevelop this long-forgotten sector
AGRICULTURE used to be an important industry in Hong Kong. In the New Territories, paddy fields, vegetable plantations, and poultry and pig farms were everywhere. But over the past decades, urbanisation turned farmland into new towns, service industries took the place of primary industries, and farm land diminished or fell into disuse.
Naturally, most people think local agriculture is all but dead. But while the industry is small, it is still producing a sizeable amount of vegetables, poultry and pigs for local consumption.
In 2013, 2 percent of vegetables we ate was locally-produced. The market share for fresh flowers was 27 percent, live pigs 7 percent, and live poultry 60 percent.
Harvesting the benefits
SHOULD we allow local agriculture to continue its descent into oblivion? The government, for one, does not think so. Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wingman (高永文) said saving the sector would bring many advantages, such as:
• diversifying our food supply and reducing reliance on imported food, whilst meeting consumers’ aspirations and demand for food with a high safety standard.
• providing jobs for lower-skilled workers; bringing opportunities to young people who aspire to develop a career in modern agriculture.
• encouraging the productive use of land, contributing to the integration of urban and rural developments, and helping preserve the visual appearance and improve sanitary conditions of the rural environments.
• helping natural resource conservation, enrichment of biodiversity and reduction of the carbon footprint in the food supply chain.
TWO major measures are proposed – an Agri-Park (農業園) and a development fund. With a size of about 70 to 80 hectares, the park would admit commercial farmers. It will be a base to experiment with new agricultural practices for wider application to increase agricultural production to meet public demand for safe and fresh produce.
The Sustainable Agricultural Development Fund (SADF, 農業持續發展基金) is for the upgrading of local agricultural practices. It also aims to promote public participation in leisure farming and educational activities for students and citizens.
Farming for fun
ONLY 4,400 people engage in agriculture, making up a mere 0.11 percent of the total workforce. But many urban people are taking an interest in farming. Over 100 leisure farms have been set up for people to experience farming during holidays. Growing one’s own food is also a valuable experience for children.
Urban farming on rooftops is a growing pastime in cities such as London (倫敦), Paris (巴黎), Singapore (新加坡) and Tokyo (東 京), and more people are adopting a new ‘half-farmer’ lifestyle – retaining their original profession while taking on farming too.
No one has the illusion that agriculture in Hong Kong can have any economic significance. But it certainly can be developed into an alternative source of unpolluted food and a leisure activity for all!