Don’t be surprised if Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has suddenly turned his attention to the city’s agriculture sector, whose contribution to the economy has dwindled to negligible levels through the years.
He is just preparing the ground for a second term in 2017.
On Monday his administration unveiled a plan to establish an agricultural park by acquiring 70-80 hectares of private farmland to boost Hong Kong’s agricultural sector.
With the plan, the government hopes to modernize the sector and maximize its output, thereby diversifying our sources of food supply, providing more job opportunities and encouraging the productive use of land.
With the government’s help, vegetable production, for example, could increase by 25 percent, giving farmers an additional income of HK$200 million per year.
Never mind that only 2 percent of the vegetables consumed in the city are produced locally or that less than 5,000 people are currently depending on farming as their means of livelihood.
The agriculture sector may be small player in Hong Kong’s economy. But politically, it remains a very influential force.
The industry has 60 votes in the 1,200-member electoral committee which was responsible for nominating and electing the chief executive in 2012. And CY Leung secured all the nominations from the agricultural sector.
As such, he is very grateful for the support of the sector. Besides, 2017 is just a couple of years away, and he has to remind the sector that he has always their best interest in mind.
The fact remains, however, that Hong Kong has no agricultural sector to speak of. The city has increasingly relied on the mainland for its food supply. It has basically integrated its economy with that of the mainland.
Hong Kong considers itself as Asia’s world city and an international financial center. Agriculture is the farthest thing from the people’s minds. Besides, in the use of land, agriculture competes with the industry which the city is obsessed with, namely property.
It is also a fact that the relationship between the government and the agricultural sector is far from smooth and harmonious.
The government, for example, has acquired big tracts of farmland for urban development projects such as the high-speed railway and the Northeast New Territories new town plan.
Farmers are being forced to sell their land and quit the trade they acquired from their parents.
And now, Leung is planning to allocate government funding to subsidize the agriculture sector as a reward for those votes in 2012 and in preparation for 2017.
It plans to set up an agricultural park to become the city’s farming hub, something like Cyberport, which was envisioned to become the city’s technology center. But who will be responsible for running the park — and how to ensure local farmers will really benefit from the park — is still a big question.
Another plan is to establish a sustainable Agriculture Development Fund to train farmers and help them modernize their products and processes. But the size of the funding as well as the criteria to be used in approving funding applications have yet to be revealed.
Given the low credibility of CY Leung’s administration, it might be a bit difficult for him to secure public support for such controversial plans. Pan-democrats could easily see them as customized policies for a group that supported him in 2012.
As soon as the plans were announced, several groups questioned their sustainability while others found them to be shortsighted and lacking in vision.
But for CY Leung, such criticisms are the ones that are shortsighted. He is looking to 2017 and beyond.
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