Farming for a Future

Is it a waste of time to encourage more people to grow their own organic vegetables, and to support local organic farmers here in Hong Kong? On the face of it growing vegetables in a city may well seem ridiculous, until you look at the facts. Sharon Astyk, in this article http://scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook/2010/02/do_you_need_to_grow_food.php

refers to a paper called Fertile Cities by I. Wade which states that 90% of produce in China in the early 90s was grown in cities. If accurate, that is astonishing. In Hong Kong itself, in 1981, we had a population of 5 million, and 10% of the land was used for agriculture. This produced 45% of the vegetables, 15% of the pigs and 68% of the chickens consumed in the city. By 2002, with a population of 6.3 million, 33% of the vegetables, 14% of the pigs, 36% of the chickens and 20% of the fish was produced. The animals were fed on food waste – 160,000 tons of it. What is the situation now? Peggy Yang’s paper Food Miles and Sustainable Consumption in Hong Kong http://www.hku.hk/kadinst/wp.html

looks at more categories and comes up with the following figures: vegetables 4.01%, fruit 1%, meat 15.97%, poultry 2.6%, eggs 0.05%, fish 31.81%. Well, we all know why the percentages in poultry and eggs have dropped so precipitously – we’ve been banned from keeping chickens since the paranoia surrounding bird flu swept through the country. So where do our poultry and eggs come from now? 96.71% of poultry comes from the mainland, as does 57.71% of our eggs. Well, that’s a relief, knowing that the mainland, with its impeccable standards of hygiene controlling the rearing of animals, is responsible for most of our poultry and eggs. It also provides 91.11% of our vegetables, but you’d have to be a complete wimp to worry about the cocktail of chemicals, including DDT, that their vegetables come laced with.

In fact, I am one of those wimps. I especially don’t want my children, and their generation, to be subjected to the systematic poisoning of the earth, the waterways, and the biosphere in general that has been a distinguishing feature of the activities of my generation and the generation before it. Because we are all ingesting such a vast array of chemicals it will never be possible to say for certain which chemicals, or mix of them, are causing which illnesses, which is very convenient for the multinationals who make huge profits from the sale of this stuff. They will go on pushing their drugs with the blessing of every politician in town. But as far as I’m concerned, this massive chemical experiment we are all being subjected to is responsible for the increases worldwide in so many illnesses ranging from heart disease to cancers to neurological diseases. A first step towards restoring sanity to this diseased planet is to withdraw your support from this drug-peddling by growing your own organic food, even if this can only amount to  windowsill herbs, and by supporting local, organic farmers.

The other advantages to this are that you reduce the amount of carbon emissions that result from your food because it is no longer being shipped or flown in from countries all around the world, using that most precious of commodities, oil. You also reduce the oil used to produce fertilisers and pesticides, and avoid much of the oil-dependent processing and delivery systems characteristic of modern, chemical farming. Meanwhile, organic farming, by using composts and manures, helps to gradually build up the biodiversity and water-retaining qualities of good humus, and thus repair the damage wrought upon the soil by chemical farming. This activity of rebuilding the soil is of such fundamental importance to the future of food production that I’d like to see it incorporated into every child’s education, but that’s another story. The following article gives a hint of what’s happening to the soil in China, suggesting that there could be a 40% drop in food production in the next 50 years: http://www.scidev.net/en/news/chinese-soil-experts-warn-of-massive-threat-to-food-security.html

So, for me, looking to strengthen our food security by increasing the number of local, organic growers is of vital importance. It’s not a question of becoming self-sufficient, but of ensuring that each of us, and the community at large, is as productive as possible. We have seen that Hong Kong was vastly more productive in the past, and anyone walking around areas such as Mui Wo can see hordes of fruit trees scattered around which are no longer properly tended and whose fruit may be sold by one or two individuals, but most of which is neglected, whilst the same fruit bought in the supermarkets has been shipped in from countries such as Thailand. There are also many abandoned terraces where farms were once worked, and most of the people who you do occasionally see  growing crops tend to be elderly. The younger generations aren’t interested in farming, and as a result vital skills and knowledge are possibly being lost as the elderly farmers die off. Unfortunately, even the elderly farmers seem to have converted to the use of chemicals, so there is much work to be done in both relearning old skills and developing ways of restoring the vitality of the soil.

However, all is not lost. There are now 320 organic farms in Hong Kong, with thriving organic markets in Tai Po and Central, which have no doubt been helped along by the increasing concern over the quality of food coming from the mainland. In Mui Wo we have a number of people growing organic food, with Mabel Kwong restructuring her farm to enable her to provide for more people in the Community-Supported Agriculture scheme we started this year. Find out who your nearest supplier is, and buy from them, but also start growing your own if you haven’t already. Just don’t give up when things don’t grow as you’d like them to. It takes time and practice and patience, but that’s part of the price we’ll have to pay for the sins of our generation. As Gandhi said, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

Don Latter

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About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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