In Hong Kong, a capitalist society where the free market system and the principle of active non-intervention are often hailed as sacred cows, almost everything is seen as a commodity, including land.
What landowners in this city are concerned about most is usually how much their land is worth rather than how their land is going to be used after it was sold.
Such “land is gold” mindset is deeply entrenched especially among landowners in the rural areas of the New Territories, who are always on the lookout for opportunities to turn their farmland into cash by selling it to the highest bidder.
And thanks to the laissez-faire policy of our government which allows the appetite of big real estate developers for land to grow unchecked, tens of thousands of hectares of farmland have fallen into their hands over the years.
As a result, more and more of our farmland is used for building luxury homes instead of growing crops.
According to government figures, the total area of farmland in Hong Kong was down from 6,080 hectares in 1997 to 4,523 hectares in 2013.
Our city’s self-sufficiency rate for vegetables dropped from 13.9 percent to just 2 percent during the same period.
Famine could be something totally unimaginable in a wealthy city like Hong Kong, at least for now.
But the prospect of food shortage is looming large in many places across the world, as the total area of arable land on our planet has continued to shrink over the past few decades.
The worsening climate change has simply exacerbated the problem, rendering more and more land infertile.
As the world population is expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, the threat of food shortage on a global scale is very real.
As a city that depends almost entirely on food imports, Hong Kong has basically zero autonomy in terms of food supply.
To make matters worse, the mainland, our No. 1 source of food imports, is itself expecting a shortage of food supply in the long run, raising the question of whether the day will come when the mainland can no longer supply us with food because it doesn’t have enough to feed its own people.
With 4,523 hectares of arable land still available in Hong Kong, I believe we can still reclaim our autonomy in food supply by devoting more farmland to agriculture rather than real estate projects before the decline in the area of farmland in this city has reached a point of no return.
I also think it is time for the government to intervene and start adopting more proactive measures to preserve farmland across the New Territories.
This will facilitate the sustainable development of agriculture in our city and boost our food self-sufficiency rate in order to get ourselves better prepared for the coming global food crisis.
In the meantime, the government should also raise public awareness about the importance of food self-sufficiency and remind the public that the only thing farmland is supposed to produce is crops rather than luxury homes.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 14.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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