Hong Kong weighs the importance of its last farms
Concerns over the safety of imported food from China – Hong Kong's largest supplier – have many criticizing a new plan to turn much of the last of its farmland into apartments.
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In 2010 Au hired an agricultural consultant who explained the principles of sustainable farming without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In early 2011, Mapopo Community Farm opened, capitalizing off a growing wariness among residents of tainted foods from the mainland. Even certified organic produce is suspect – Hong Kong suspended shipments of organic baby bok choi from China in July after discovering excessive levels of cadmium.Skip to next paragraph
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Today Mapopo is a popular community farm, selling organic fruits and vegetables through a biweekly market at Au’s grandmother’s home. It supplies restaurants and a school with produce, composts food waste from restaurants and, for a fee, offers eco-tours and sustainability workshops.
The Hong Kong Organic Resource Center estimates that one-third of Hong Kong residents buy organic produce at least once weekly. Mapopo’s produce is not certified organic, but it – and the produce of nearby farms like it – has won the trust of locals wary of Chinese food imports.
Mapopo customer Anita Lai said she began buying organic food three years ago for one simple reason: “In the past few years, there has been so much horrible news about the food from China.” Ms. Lai, like many in Hong Kong, supports sparing Mapopo and other farms and villages by developing the 176-hectare Hong Kong Golf Club at Fanling, near the proposed development area.
Prestige vs practicality
Moving the development to a golf course isn’t as easy as it may sound. The golf course is the oldest golf course in Hong Kong and its club members are among the richest and most powerful people in the city.
Host of the prestigious Hong Kong Open, Hong Kong Golf Club is one of six private golf clubs in the city. According to an agreement with the government, the club leases its land for 1 Hong Kong dollar (less than 13 cents) per year, compared with the thousands of Hong Kong dollars small farms in Mapopo pay per month.
Razing the golf course for apartments would damage the international standing of Hong Kong, which promotes itself as “Asia’s world city,” say opponents.
There is plenty of inefficiently used land – open storage, scrap yards, parking lots – that could be developed, says Dr. Cheng. But investigating those more fully, he says, would require costly compensation and time. “The government is looking for the easiest way to find land for development,” he says.
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