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The Time for Cultivation

Hong Kong had plenty of agricultural land in the last century during the 50’s and 60’s. The self-sufficient rate was as high as 70%. Old farmers can sustain the whole family of a few members only by farming.

Everyone needs vegetables. But why is agriculture still declining? This is the down side brought by the reform and opening of China. In the 80’s, veteran local farmers and mainland investors set up vegetable farm in the mainland with their experience and skill and lumped the Hong Kong market with low priced produce. This was a big blow to the local famers, which made their days numbered. 40-year-old Wong Yung-heung can be regarded as the only surviving young farmer in Pat Heung. She sustains her living by relying on her father’s traditional knowledge on agriculture. With limited harvest now, she only sells her produce at low price at the wholesale market through the Vegetables Marketing Co-operatives Societies, earning an income which just makes ends meet. Cheung Sha Wan Vegetables Wholesale Market managed by Vegetables Marketing Organization is the destination of the remaining twenty-six co-operatives in the whole of Hong Kong. In the 70’s, trucks of local farmers from co-operatives of different districts came here non-stop. After the handover, large trucks containing mainland produce replaced them. Today, local produce only takes up less than 2% of supply in the market.

In the mid 80’s, there were a few incidents of poisonous vegetables in Hong Kong. But challenge also brings about opportunities. Citizens become increasingly aware of food safety. The Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) introduced the Accredited Farm Scheme in 1994, encouraging farmers to deploy best practice and use pesticides appropriately in order to regain confidence in local produce. After the handover, citizens are still suspicious about imported food from the mainland. The society has long advocated organic farming which does not involve the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The AFCD started encouraging famers to change to organic farming in 2000. However, it was still at its infancy and there was not enough technical support. Some failed and quitted, some struggled to change their course and some adhered to the traditional farming method. Traditional farming cannot make its transition to and organic farming. While organic vegetables have become the mainstream, the market neglects traditional produce nevertheless. The gap between the old and new is wide.

There has been a heavy reliance on infrastructure and property development in the land policy of Hong Kong. Landowners would rather wait for resumption instead of renting the land out for enthusiasts to farm. There is land which is uncultivated and at the same time, there are people searching for land to farm. This is the reality of agriculture in Hong Kong now. It is difficult to find land and tenancy is short term. New organic farmers can only searcher for land in areas which are increasingly remote. Li Lin lives in the western part of the New Territories and has transitioned to become an organic farmer like Andy. Both can only find their land, and dream in remote Mui Wo and Pui O.

Old farmers may have retired but young ones born in the 90’s inherit to become full-time farmers. Two generations of farmers met by chance in the disappearing northwestern part of the New Territories. They do not care much about income but the love of land and inheritance of skills. Famers in the past replied on bare hands to live. The new generation of famers needs to perform multiple functions. Would a new light be shed on agriculture thereafter…

Producer: Queenie SIN

Between Two Generations

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  • English
  • Lifestyle
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Between Two Generations
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