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LCQ19: Promoting modernisation and sustainable development of local agriculture

     Following is a question by Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (June 1):


     Early this year, the Government introduced a new agriculture policy after conducting a review. However, some farmers have pointed out that the Government's support for the modernisation and sustainable development of agriculture remains insufficient. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as it is learnt that thousands of members of the public are waiting for leasing leisure-farming lands of a non-profit-making farm in Ma On Shan, reflecting the increasing popularity of community farms, whether the Government will set aside idle government lands for lease application by non-profit-making organisations to develop community farms, as well as provide basic utilities of water and electricity for such lands; whether the Government will, when carrying out land use planning in future, reserve lands for the development of community farms to meet public demand for leisure farming;

(2) as quite a number of people have criticised that the application procedures for Sustainable Fisheries Development Fund are cumbersome and that applicants are required to furnish a large number of supporting documents, whether the Government will formulate simple and convenient application procedures when it introduces the Sustainable Agricultural Development Fund (SADF); if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) given that while the authorities proposed in March this year to set up a Farm Improvement Scheme under SADF to provide each recipient with a one-off subsidy of up to $30,000, there are comments that a subsidy of such an amount is insufficient for enhancing the facilities and productivity of the farms, and the restriction of one subsidy per recipient is running against the Government's objective of promoting sustainable development of agriculture, whether the Government will consider increasing the maximum amount of subsidy and allowing a recipient to receive such subsidy repeatedly; if it will; of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) as some persons engaged in hydroponic farming have relayed that they currently have to pay high rents for practising hydroponic farming in units of industrial buildings, whether the Government will review the policy on promoting hydroponic farming to provide support and subsidy for the persons concerned; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(5) whether it will consider discussing with representatives of the relevant trades the formulation of an official certification system for organic food products, so as to safeguard food safety and consumers' interests for the public and to boost public confidence in organic food products, thereby facilitating the development of organic farming; if it will; of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     In the 2016 Policy Address, the Chief Executive announced that the Government would implement the New Agriculture Policy (NAP).  This is to be underpinned by a series of support measures.  They include establishing an Agricultural Park, exploring the feasibility of designating agricultural priority areas, setting up the Sustainable Agricultural Development Fund (SADF), providing better support and assistance to help farmers move up the value chain in areas such as product marketing and brand building, and developing leisure and educational activities related to agriculture, so as to promote the modernisation of local agriculture and its sustainable development.  The overall directions of the NAP and the proposed measures have gained general support of the public as well as the industry.

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

(1) Under the NAP, leisure farms refer to farms that are primarily engaged in commercial crop production while at the same time provide limited and ancillary leisure activities related to their operation. The purpose of promoting such ancillary leisure activities is to expand the platform on which farmers can market their produce and showcase their agricultural activities as a means to increase their income. For instance, we may consider accepting under the planning regime the inclusion of certain services for visitors (e.g. sale of fresh produce grown in that farm and simple processed food such as fruit jam and juices made from its fresh produce, and the provision of catering services of a limited scale) as ancillary to agricultural use that are always permitted in "Agriculture" or "Green Belt" zones.

     At present, some organisations rent government land for operating community gardens. For instance, the leisure farm in Ma On Shan referred to in the question is established by a non-profit-making organisation on government land leased under short term tenancy (STT) as a community garden for provision of horticultural activities to the public. Upon receipt of an application for leasing vacant government land under STT, the Lands Department will process the application in accordance with established procedures, including consulting relevant bureaux and departments for comments and policy support for determining whether to approve the application and if so, the terms of the tenancy.  

     Besides, to encourage public participation in greening activities and enhance awareness on greening and environmental protection through planting activities, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) has since 2004 launched the Community Garden Programme, under which participants can learn how to grow ornamental plants, fruits and vegetables under the guidance of instructors. LCSD currently runs 23 community gardens across the territory, open to participants for practising gardening. LCSD will continue to identify suitable locations for establishing community gardens.

(2) and (3) On May 6, 2016, the Finance Committee (FC) of the Legislative Council approved a commitment of $500 million for setting up the SADF. The scope, eligibility and assessment criteria of the SADF were approved by FC after thorough deliberations. To ensure proper use of public funds, the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation will exercise prudence and take into account views of the SADF Advisory Committee when approving grants under the SADF. When the SADF is open for applications, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) will draw up detailed application guidelines for interested parties. AFCD will also offer assistance to applicants, including providing technical advice, explaining application procedures, and assisting in preparing proposals as needed.

     In addition, the Farm Improvement Scheme (FIS) under the SADF will provide direct grants to local farmers for acquisition of small farming equipment and materials to improve their productivity and operating efficiency. The maximum grant that an applicant may receive will initially be capped at $30,000, irrespective of the number of items acquired. The grant limit is set taking into consideration the actual needs of most local farmers for small farming equipment and materials. Application procedures of the FIS will be made as simple as possible, without requiring the submission of proposal.

(4) Under the NAP, the Government is seeking to promote diversification in local vegetable production and foster the wider adoption of advanced technologies in production, including but not limited to hydroponic farming. More specifically, the SADF will fund research projects undertaken by local universities for optimising the agro-technologies to help farmer apply technology in farming production.

     Having regard to the scarcity of land resources in Hong Kong, the Government will review the operational requirements and technical feasibility of conducting hydroponic farming or other similar operations in industrial buildings, with a view to providing more specific planning guidelines to facilitate the setting up of operations adopting hydroponics and other similar agro-technologies in industrial buildings/zones.

(5) With funding from the Agricultural Development Fund under the Vegetable Marketing Organization (VMO), the Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre (HKORC) provides certification service for farmers. Subscription to such service is voluntary. HKORC has established a set of stringent guidelines with reference to international standards, i.e. guidelines of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, to ensure that the process adopted by organic farms complies with the certification standards of organic farming and production. Certified farms may attach the label of the certification body to their products for easy identification. Currently, more than 140 units have been certified, covering products such as vegetables, cultured fish and other processed food.  HKORC also conducts regular surveys to monitor the market situation.

     To step up public education, the Centre for Food Safety provides the public with information on organic food through its publicity leaflets, publications and website. HKORC also organises various kinds of activities every year to introduce recognised certification labels to the public and encourages them to read the organic certificates displayed by traders carefully and make purchase at reputable shops. VMO and HKORC also provide, on their websites, information on local organic food, such as details of the outlets for local organic vegetables. The Government will continue to strengthen its work in these areas.

Ends/Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:38


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