LCQ20: Sustainable agricultural development

     Following is a question by the Hon Steven Ho and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (December 7):

     Some farmers have relayed to me that in recent years, the Government has undertaken a number of development plans which involve a large quantity of agricultural land, farms and relevant ancillary facilities, and have serious impacts on the agriculture industry. They have also pointed out that the local agriculture industry plays an important role in safeguarding food safety, maintaining food supply and stabilising imported inflation. Regarding the sustainable development of the agriculture industry, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective total areas of agricultural land and agricultural land under active farming in Hong Kong in each of the past two years;

(2) of the following information on the development plans commenced in the past five years (set out in the table below):
(i) the anticipated commencement dates and completion dates of the works involved in the implementation of the plans,
(ii) the area of land within the planning scope,
(iii) the area of land within the planning scope that will be (will continue to be) used for agricultural purposes,
(iv) the area of the green belt within the planning scope that will be (will continue to be) used for agricultural purposes,
(v) the total area of agricultural land rezoned to non-agricultural uses,
(vi) the area of agricultural land under active farming rezoned to non-agricultural uses (including the area of green belt that can be used for agricultural purposes),
(vii) the area of land occupied by the vegetable marketing co-operative societies/vegetable depots within the planning scope,
(viii) the number and locations of pig farms on agricultural land rezoned to non-agricultural uses,
(ix) the number and locations of chicken farms on agricultural land rezoned to non-agricultural uses, and
(x) the number of farmers who need/needed to relocate their farms or change occupation due to rezoning of their agricultural land to non-agricultural uses;
Development plan (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) (vi) (vii) (viii) (ix) (x)
Kwu Tung North and Fanling North New Development Areas                    
Hung Shui Kiu New Development Area                    
Yuen Long South                    
The West Rail site and three adjacent public housing sites in Kam Tin South                    
Other areas in New Territories North                    
Tung Chung New Town Extension                    

(3) of the new plans in place to assist farmers affected by the development plans mentioned in (2) in identifying lands for relocation and agricultural rehabilitation, as well as the total area of the agricultural land involved under such plans;

(4) whether it will designate land within the scopes of the development plans mentioned in (2) and in other suitable locations for the development of the agriculture industry, so as to assist the affected farmers in agricultural rehabilitation and promote the sustainable development of the agriculture industry; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) as quite a number of farmers who are not owners of agricultural land have indicated that they were affected by the development plans but have not been given any compensation by the Government, of the details of the current mechanism for screening whether farmers are affected or not; what improvement measures are in place to enable all farmers who are genuinely affected to receive appropriate assistance;

(6) as some farmers have pointed out that the development plans often dampen agricultural development, and the requirement which disallows the provision of commercial facilities on farms is also not conducive to the development of leisure farming, whether the authorities will adopt a new regulatory framework and amend the relevant legislation to remove the barriers for the agriculture industry (including introducing vertical farming and vertical farms, exploring the feasibility of constructing multi-storey buildings for the purposes of crop production, livestock keeping, operation of food premises and retail markets for agricultural products, as well as relaxing the restrictions to allow the provision, as appropriate, of commercial facilities on leisure farms), in order to reduce the conflicts between development plans and the agriculture industry as well as to promote the development of leisure farming; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(7) given the requirement that a farmer who wishes to construct agricultural structures with a height exceeding 4.57 metres or comprising more than one storey must submit a building plan to the Buildings Department for approval, whether the authorities will relax this requirement or enhance the support for farmers in their submission of such applications, so as to facilitate the introduction of vertical farming and Singapore's Sky Greens Farm to Hong Kong, with a view to easing the conflicts between development plans and the agriculture industry and promoting the diversified development of the agriculture industry;

(8) as some members of the livestock industry have relayed that owing to the requirements under the Public Health (Animals and Birds) (Licensing of Livestock Keeping) Regulation (Cap 139 sub. leg. L), it is usually very difficult for them to identify land for the relocation and continuation of their livestock farms, and the Government commissioned a consultant in 2015 to study the future of the live poultry trade in Hong Kong, of the respective progress of the reviews of the relocation requirements for chicken farms and pig farms;

(9) of the direction that the study on fresh food wholesale markets (wholesale markets) currently conducted by the authorities is heading; given that the wholesale markets involve the survival of the relevant trades, logistics and food safety, whether the authorities will work with the relevant trades to explore the appropriate (i) sites for relocation, (ii) scale of markets and (iii) management model, so that the wholesale markets can promote the development of the agriculture industry; and

(10) of the latest progress and details of the authorities' work on implementing the new agriculture policy, including the setting up of an Agriculture Park, Agriculture Priority Areas and a Sustainable Agricultural Development Fund; when the relevant initiatives are expected to be implemented?


     With inputs from the Development Bureau (DEVB) in respect of Parts (2), (3), (4), (5) and (7), my consolidated reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(1) According to the data collected by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the area of agricultural land in Hong Kong in 2014 and 2015 is estimated as follows:
Year Total Area of
Agricultural Land
Area of Agricultural Land
under Active Farming
2014 around 4 500 around 710
2014 around 4 500 around 690

(2) Details of various development projects and the agricultural land, vegetable marketing co-operative societies/vegetable depots and livestock farms affected are set out in Annex.

(3) and (4) In general, under the established mechanism, genuine farmers affected by land resumption and clearance arising from public works projects would have to purchase or rent private agricultural land elsewhere if they wish to continue their operations. The Government would liaise with vegetable co-operative societies and vegetable depots so affected to understand their needs and explore practical solutions, with a view to minimising the impacts of the projects on the farmers in the area.

     Nevertheless, in view of the importance of the Kwu Tung North and Fanling North New Development Areas (NDAs), Hung Shui Kiu NDA and the development in Yuen Long South to the overall land and housing supply, as well as the relatively large area of affected agricultural land in these NDAs, the Government is contemplating to launch a special agricultural land rehabilitation scheme. The scheme would identify suitable government land or landowners who are willing to lease or sell their land suitable for agricultural re-site/rehabilitation, with a view to matching the land/landowners with farmers affected by relevant development projects for facilitating their agricultural rehabilitation. The Government will announce the details of the scheme in due course.

     As one of the initiatives of the New Agriculture Policy (NAP), the Agricultural Park (Agri-Park) may, upon completion, also serve to accommodate eligible farmers affected by government development projects that happen to take place within the same timeframe, should they wish to continue farming.

     In addition, there is another initiative under the NAP to explore identifying clusters of farmland that have higher value for agricultural activities as Agricultural Priority Areas (APAs), and incentivising landowners to put such land into long-term agricultural uses for sustainable development of local agriculture. The Government is planning to commission a consultancy study in 2017 to examine the feasibility and merits of identifying and designating APAs. The consultancy study will be jointly overseen by the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) and DEVB. 

(5) The development and works projects will necessitate resuming private land, including private agricultural land, by the Government. The private land concerned will normally revert to the Government three months from the gazettal of resumption notice. Landowners will be compensated for the land resumed. Farmers operating on the affected agricultural land on the date of reversion will, upon assessment and verification of their farmer status with the assistance of AFCD, receive relevant ex-gratia allowances, including crop compensation, disturbance allowance for cultivators, allowance for pig and poultry farmers, ex-gratia allowance for pond fish farmers rearing edible fish and fish fry, allowance for qualified farm structures on private land, and allowance for miscellaneous permanent improvements to farms. Upon formal commencement of the land resumption and clearance procedures, the Lands Department (LandsD) will post a notice, and officers from relevant government departments will conduct field assessment on the affected land and record the particulars of farmers and their agricultural operations. Applications for various ex-gratia allowances will be processed in accordance with the established mechanisms.  Prior to the resumption, any tenancy and rental arrangements between landowners and tenants are within the domain of private agreement, in which it is inappropriate for the Government to get involved.
(6) and (7) Under the NAP, AFCD will promote leisure farming as an ancillary activity to enable farmers to increase their income, market their produce and reach out to potential customers. Nevertheless, all leisure farms must, first and foremost, remain engaged in commercial crop production and keep their facilities provided for visitors to a minimum. Facilitating measures being actively considered, such as enabling the sale of fresh agricultural produce and simple processed agricultural produce grown in these farms, provision of catering services on a limited scale, etc., are all premised on such basis.

     To promote a diversified development of the agricultural industry, apart from encouraging and facilitating rehabilitation of fallow agricultural land, the Government also follows closely the latest trends and development in farming technology. Vertical farming is usually conducted indoors, as in the case of indoor hydroponic and mushroom cultivations in Hong Kong that adopt similar techniques. The Government is reviewing the operational requirements of hydroponics or other farming practices using new technologies in industrial buildings, with a view to providing clear guidelines for farms applying new technologies in industrial buildings/zones.

     As for the idea of allowing livestock keeping together with food premises and retail markets in multi-storey buildings, for biosecurity and environmental hygiene considerations, it is worth noting that places in close proximity to areas or facilities with high pedestrian flow are not suitable for livestock keeping in order to minimise the risk of cross-infection of zoonotic diseases among people or livestock. Overseas livestock farms are understood to be generally located far away from densely populated areas. 

     Having regard to structural safety consideration, an applicant planning to build a structure that exceeds 4.57 metres in height or comprises more than a single storey must submit a building plan to the Building Authority for approval in accordance with the existing requirements under the Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123). That said, the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance (Cap 121) provides that buildings in compliance with relevant requirements may be exempted from the regulatory control of the Building Authority by way of a certificate of exemption. If a building to be used solely for agricultural purpose, when constructed, will be of a single storey and a height of not more than 4.57 metres, LandsD may consider issuing a certificate of exemption for the building.

     For construction of any agricultural structures (e.g. greenhouses) on private agricultural land, application must be made to LandsD for a Letter of Approval for Agricultural Structures and the relevant certificate of exemption. To facilitate applications by farmers, AFCD provides a one-stop service, under which AFCD officers will visit the applicant's farm to verify if the application is of genuine need for agricultural or fisheries operation, and make recommendations to LandsD having regard to the circumstances. AFCD will individually consider each item on the list of proposed structures in the application and may recommend all or part of the items. Upon receipt of AFCD's recommendation, LandsD will further consider whether a Letter of Approval for Agricultural Structures and the relevant certificate of exemption should be granted.
(8) The consultant commissioned by the Government is examining the way forward of local live poultry trade including whether the live poultry sale should continue in Hong Kong, with a view to making recommendations thereon. The consultancy study is expected to be completed in the coming months. We will then consult the public on the consultant's recommendations in charting the way forward for the live poultry trade. 

(9) The consultant commissioned by the Government has completed its study report on the roles and functions of the five wholesale food markets in the urban area. The report reaffirms that the role of these markets in the supply of fresh food remains indispensable.  The Government will continue to strive to strengthen the efficacy and management of these wholesale markets. 

     To make optimal use of our precious land resources, FHB and AFCD will continue to work closely with relevant government bureaux and departments in identifying suitable sites for reprovisioning the wholesale food markets for releasing the original sites for commercial and residential developments. It is also expected that the wholesale food markets could achieve greater synergy after relocation and continue to provide the wholesale food service for the public.

(10) The latest progress of various measures implemented under the NAP is as follows:

     The funding commitment for setting up the Sustainable Agricultural Development Fund (SADF) was approved by the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council in May 2016. The Government is now working on the detailed arrangements for applications, with a view to accepting applications starting from early 2017 and making disbursements to the first batch of successful applicants within the year. SADF aims at supporting practical, application-oriented projects, schemes or researches that help farmers enhance their productivity and output, and contribute to fostering the sustainable development and enhancing the overall competitiveness of the agricultural industry. The Farm Improvement Scheme (FIS) to be established under SADF will provide direct grants to eligible farmers for acquisition of small farming machines and equipment to improve their productivity and operating efficiency. Application procedures of FIS will be as simple as possible, and farmers will not be required to submit detailed proposals.

     As for the Agri-Park, the Government has preliminarily identified a cluster of about 75 to 80 hectares of farmland suitable for its establishment in Kwu Tung South. The consultant commissioned by the Government is conducting an engineering feasibility study to identify the initial boundary of and recommend the major infrastructure and facilities within the Agri-Park, as well as to devise a detailed implementation plan. The consultancy study is expected to be completed within this year.

     Regarding the progress of the APAs, please refer to Parts (3) and (4) of the reply.  

Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Issued at HKT 19:58