Organic farms feel bite of short leases

UnbenanntA mere 1 percent of organic farmers believe the government is providing sufficient support to the industry, a survey shows.
The Hong Kong Association of Organic Industry interviewed 59 organic farms and 73 percent said government support was insufficient. Around 24 percent said it was “so-so.”

There are 120 certified organic farms in Hong Kong.

But the association welcomed the Food and Health Bureau’s launching of a three-month consultation New agricultural policy: sustainable agricultural development in Hong Kong last December.

It said the move marks a clear direction for the development of the industry.

Raymond Cheng Wai-man, the association’s founding chairman, said: “We interviewed 200 farmers and organic products consumers. We are writing a report based on the data and will submit it to the government in March within the consultation period.”

In the poll, about 27 percent said their biggest difficulty in maintaining farms is the length of tenancies while 21 percent pointed to the lack of labor.

High operating costs (18 percent) and the difficulty in finding markets (17 percent) are other top concerns.

Cheng said many farmers found the tenancy terms too short, and that the government needs to help them find land or help them sign longer periods of tenancy.

“At least five years is needed because for the first two years, farmers are still in the `payback period.’ Usually they’ll start making money from the third year,” he said.

“There are many cases in which after farmers have invested capital in land formation, the landlord says he wants the land back to sell to developers.”

Cheng added an agricultural park should be a good idea.

He also said farmers need more support in selling and brand building.

According to the survey, only 8 percent said they have sufficient selling channels.

“I knew a farmer who used to produce 200 to 300 catties of vegetables from his 3,000-square- meter farmland but because he couldn’t sell all his vegetables every time, he needed to throw half of them away,” Cheng said. The farm has since closed down.

Jonathan Wong Woon-chung, chairman of the Hong Kong Organic Resources Centre certification board, said farmers need help in marketing and believes the association should provide assistance.

Agriculture and fisheries sector lawmaker Steven Ho Chun-yin said more middle-class residents are showing an interest in organic food and the market should grow steadily.

He believes the government should provide more assistance to the industry.

Source: The Standard