Saturday, 26 November 2016

We need more small farms

When I visit some vegetable markets in Taiwan and Hong Kong, I often enjoy not only the vibrant and lively atmosphere, but also the sight of a large varieties of vegetables. I believe those vegetable varieties, not seen in supermarkets, are probably grown in small local farms. They can't be grown by large scale industrial farms, whose primary concern is their return on investment. These large farms would use agrochemicals and machinery, less workers and grow only a few commercial crop varieties to achieve higher "efficiency and productivity". Industrial farms are not growing crops - they are manufacturing crops. The people who work there are not farmers - they are workers.

Whereas, the practices in small local farms are more friendly to the environment, and can produce safer and more nutritious food.

But the situation is very worrying now. A report tilted "HUNGRY FOR LAND: Small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland" says that

  • Small farms are currently squeezed onto less than a quarter of the world's farmland.
  • We're fast losing small farms and farmers in many places, while big farms are getting bigger
If this trend of big farms displacing small farms continues, it is logical to predict that there will be less crop varieties, and hence a narrower spectrum of nutrients, available to the people. Think of how many banana varieties you can buy in our supermarkets today. I myself have also read about and witnessed the extinction of a few vegetable varieties in Hong Kong.

In a previous blog post, I talked about how my humble food forest that my wife and I took two years to create, was destroyed in three days by an agro-corporate firm. They would then build a high-tech greenhouse to grow crops indoor, shutting out Nature, who was regarded as the supreme farmer by Sir Albert Howard in his book "An Agricultural Testament"

Watch this video clip to see how they destroyed my food forest, laid and pressed demolition debris such as crushed toilet bowls, tiles, plastic pipes onto the soil, in order to build their greenhouses on it.

We need to reverse this dangerous trend of small farms disappearing and big farms getting bigger.

Singapore is often regarded as a land-scarce island nation, but it is easy to see pockets of lawn areas scattered throughout the island. I hope the Singapore government will see the values of small farms and the potential of these lawn areas becoming productive small farms, providing safe and nutritious food for its people - small farms being part of food security in Singapore.

In every district, there are amenities and facilities like community centres, parks, hawker centres, nursing homes, clinics, post offices etc. How about farms that produce food for the residents - the next level of the already successful Community in Bloom Initiatives by NParks. Not just gardens, but small farms of 0.1 to 0.5 hectares that seriously grow food for communities.

I vision a Singapore with many small farms in different areas, producing really safe and nutritious food using responsible farming practices that are friendly to the environment and to the people.