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LCQ10: Local farming industry development

     Following is a question by the Hon Steven Ho Chun-yin and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (June 26):


     According to statistics of the Government, the total area of agricultural lands in Hong Kong has been decreasing in the past 16 years while abandoned and fallow agricultural lands have all along accounted for about 70% of agricultural lands in total in recent years. On the other hand, the 2013 Policy Address has not put forward any new policy to facilitate agricultural development. Some members of the public have relayed to me that there are now young people who wish to join the agriculture industry and farmers (whose land had been resumed by the Government for land development) who wish to rejoin it, but they are unable to find suitable agricultural land. They have also pointed out that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is currently responsible for administering three loan funds with a total accumulated deposit standing at $45 million, and the Agricultural Development Fund administered by the Vegetable Marketing Organization has about $200 million available. Yet, such funds have not been able to help enhance the agricultural development in Hong Kong. Regarding the agricultural development in Hong Kong, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the area of the agricultural lands resumed by the Government for various development projects, the respective areas of active and abandoned agricultural lands at the time of land resumption, as well as the number of farmers affected by land resumption (set out in the table), in each of the past five years; the measures taken by the Government to help those affected farmers;

(b) whether the Government had zoned any land as agricultural land in the past three years to promote agricultural development; if it had, of the area of new agricultural land; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) whether the Government has considered how to optimise the use of the existing abandoned and fallow agricultural lands, landfills, idle lands and lands along the shore of outlying islands (e.g. establishing an agricultural research centre to encourage innovative agricultural development), and further build up the reputation of the brand of local agricultural produce as being safe and reliable; if it has considered, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(d) whether the Government will draw reference from the modes of sustainable development which combines "ecology, living and production" in neighbouring regions of Hong Kong (such as Taiwan), and introduce measures to develop ecological farms which combine organic farming with green and leisure farming; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(e) whether the Government will consider enhancing the existing loans and development funds relating to the agriculture industry, or set up an agriculture industry sustainable development fund so as to promote the sustainable development of the agriculture industry; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(f) whether the Government has formulated any policy to facilitate the application of new agricultural technologies in the agriculture industry in Hong Kong, and encourage the development of new trades of the agriculture industry; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that, and whether relevant policies will be formulated?



     It is the Government's existing policy to facilitate agricultural development through the provision of basic infrastructure, technical support and low-interest loans to farmers. At the same time, we make full use of the Agricultural Development Fund under the Vegetable Marketing Organisation (VMO) to facilitate the further development of local agriculture, enhance the productivity and business viability of the industry, and develop modern and environment-friendly farming technologies with emphasis on preservation of natural resources and the agricultural ecology. This will help farmers produce good quality and high-value agricultural products that are safe for consumption and contribute to the sustainable development of the industry.

     Under this policy, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) actively encourages local farmers to develop organic farming and gives them the necessary support. Through the Organic Farming Support Service, it provides advice and technical support for those farmers who wish to switch to organic farming from traditional farming. In addition, the AFCD promotes the production and sale of local organic agricultural products jointly with the VMO and the Federation of Vegetable Marketing Co-operative Societies, Ltd. As at the end of May 2013, 217 farms are participating in the Organic Farming Support Service, producing about five tonnes of organic agricultural products each day for the local market. At present, there are more than 37 retail outlets for organic vegetable under the VMO marketing network. Besides, the AFCD supports the Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre in its endeavours to educate the public on organic farming and promote the certification of organic products.  

     The AFCD organises from time to time talks and on-farm demonstrations for farmers, briefing them on improved varieties of agricultural products and new farming techniques. Quality produce developed in recent years includes red flesh rock melon, seedless water melon, yellow flesh water melon, long horn pepper, round eggplant, potato and organic strawberry, etc.

     The Government has also actively assisted the industry in developing quality brand names. At present, 265 vegetable farms in the territory have participated in the Accredited Farm Scheme. The Scheme aims at promoting good horticultural practice and environment-friendly production, and encouraging integrated pest management and the proper and safe use of pesticides. Farm inspections are conducted to ensure steady production of quality vegetables that are safe for consumption. The AFCD helps the industry set up weekend farmers' markets and organises large-scale carnivals, such as the annual FarmFest which attracts over 100 participating local farmers and fishermen and more than 100 000 visitors every year. These events have helped showcase local agricultural and fishery products and promote local brand names.

     Moreover, the VMO set up in 1988-89 the Agricultural Development Fund with funding derived from its operating profits. The Fund enables the AFCD and the farming industry to launch agricultural development programmes. Apart from the above-mentioned programmes and activities, examples include the "Controlled Environment Agriculture and Hydroponic" technology which has recently been introduced and is being promoted for use in local farming. Between 2008 and 2012, the Fund provided about $140 million for various projects.  About $170 million is currently available under the Fund.  

     The AFCD is also administering three loan funds (including the Kadoorie Agriculture Aid Loan Fund, J. E. Joseph Trust Fund and Vegetable Marketing Organisation Loan Fund) which provide loans to farmers for farm development and operation.  The total accumulated deposit under the three funds now amounts to over $47 million. These funds are noted for their user-friendly application procedures, low interest rates, the availability of unsecure loans up to $130,000 and their flexible repayment period.  Between 2008 and 2012, loans of over $42 million were offered to 411 farmers under the three funds.  

     The Government will carry on with its efforts on the above fronts to support the sustainable development of the local farming industry.

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) According to the records of the Lands Department (LandsD), over the past five years, about 107 hectares of private agricultural land (i.e. private land classified for agricultural use as revealed by the relevant records registered with the Land Registry) in the New Territories were resumed by the Government for various public works projects.  The relevant area of land resumed was about 56 hectares (2008), 2 hectares (2009), 29 hectares (2010), 7 hectares (2011) and 13 hectares (2012) respectively. LandsD does not have information concerning the agricultural activities on such agricultural land resumed.

     Rehabilitation allowance is payable to genuine farmers (assessed by the AFCD) who are affected by land resumption for public purpose in the New Territories and eligible for public housing but who opt to continue farming elsewhere and give up their priority to public housing. In addition, under the existing policy, affected and eligible farmers may apply for other types of ex-gratia allowances provided for genuine farmers. These allowances include crop compensation, disturbance allowance for cultivators, allowance for pig and poultry farmers, allowance for qualified farm structures on private land, and allowance for miscellaneous permanent improvements to farms. Over the past five years, LandsD offered the above allowances to a total of 3 101 farmers. The relevant number of farmers was 1 280 (2008), 604 (2009), 593 (2010), 235 (2011) and 389 (2012) respectively.

(b) In preparing statutory plans (including outline zoning plans and development permission area plans), Planning Department will take into account the views of relevant government departments, including those of the AFCD, with a view to designating land suitable for agricultural use under the "Agriculture" ("AGR") zone.  In 2010, a total of 3 050 hectares of land in the New Territories fell under the "AGR" zone. In the past three years, the area of land zoned "AGR" has increased from 3 050 hectares to 3 278 hectares. The newly increased land zoned "AGR" is mainly located in areas covered by the five statutory plans relating to the Closed Area. It should be noted that there may still be some privately owned agricultural land that exists outside statutory plans or within Country Parks, and that "Agricultural Use" is always permitted in other land-use zonings such as "Village Type Development", "Green Belt" and "Conservation Area". As such, the above figures, which only give the total area of land bearing the "AGR" zone on statutory plans, do not represent the area of all the land that may be used for agricultural purposes in the territory.

(c) At present, of the 3 278 hectares of land zoned as "Agriculture", nearly 70% are privately owned. Whether the land will be used for agricultural production is the decision of the landowners. As for those people who would like to engage in agricultural production, including those farmers being affected by land resumption who opt to continue farming elsewhere as referred to in (a) above, the Government will, in the interest of sustaining the development of the local agriculture industry, support them through the provision of infrastructure, technical support and low-interest loans. For details, please refer to the first six paragraphs of this reply. In addition, to assist farmers who wish to engage or re-engage in farming, the AFCD serves as a facilitator by matching prospective tenants with landowners who intend to rent out their agricultural land. The farmers and landowners may enter into tenancy agreements themselves after negotiations. Ultimately it is for the landowners to decide whether or not to rent out their land for agricultural use. Over the past five years (from 2008 to 2012), the AFCD assisted 74 farmers in identifying land for agricultural rehabilitation, involving a total area of about 14 hectares.

(d) The pursuit of a healthy lifestyle in recent years has been such a rising trend that more and more farms are now open to public visits. These farms have evolved from traditional ones solely engaged in agricultural production to leisure farms serving multiple purposes of production, recreation and education. In keeping with such developments, the AFCD has published and distributed, on a yearly basis since 2010, "A Guide to Hong Kong Leisure Farms" which provides information on about 120 leisure farms. An interactive webpage ( has also been launched for use by members of the public who are interested in visiting the diverse range of leisure farms in Hong Kong. By facilitating diversification, we hope to further promote sustainable development of the local farming industry.  

(e) As has been highlighted in the fifth paragraph above, the AFCD makes good use of the Agricultural Development Fund available under the VMO since 1988-89 to launch agricultural development programmes in collaboration with the farming industry. Notable examples include the Accredited Farm Scheme, the annual FarmFest as well as the "Controlled Environment Agriculture and Hydroponic" technology which has recently been introduced and promoted for use in local farming. The AFCD will continue to make good use of the Fund to further promote the development of the local farming industry in collaboration with the trade.  

     Through the three loan funds (including the Kadoorie Agriculture Aid Loan Fund, J. E. Joseph Trust Fund and Vegetable Marketing Organization Loan Fund) administered by the AFCD, loans are made available to farmers for farm development and operation. The AFCD will review the industry's demand for funding from time to time to ensure that the funds could better meet the needs of recipients.  

(f) Hong Kong is a highly urbanised city with limited land resources. In accordance with the policy mentioned in the first paragraph above, the AFCD, when developing new farming technologies, will actively explore ways to use land resources more effectively. The Controlled Environment Hydroponic Research and Development Centre officially opened in March 2013, is one such example. In collaboration with the VMO, the AFCD has brought in from overseas the "Controlled Environment Hydroponic" method for local use on a trial basis. With the adoption of sophisticated controlled environment technology to maintain the best conditions for growing vegetables indoor, this new method of water cultivation enables us to produce ready-to-eat baby leaf salad vegetables which are free of contamination.  As the controlled environment hydroponic operations are highly adaptive in terms of site requirements, vacant units in factory buildings may be used as production bases. This will promote the utilisation of surplus accommodation in factory buildings and relieve the demand for farmland. Besides, as the "Controlled Environment Hydroponic" method allows multi-layer vertical production, the area required is much smaller than what would otherwise be needed to deliver the same amount of production through conventional farming. It is therefore well suited for use in a place like Hong Kong, a highly urbanised city where land is in short supply.

Ends/Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Issued at HKT 13:56


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