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LCQ10: Development of local agriculture and fisheries

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Lam Tai-fai and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (February 15):


     Some members of the agriculture and fisheries industries (the industries) in Hong Kong have relayed to me that the operating environment of members of the industries continues to deteriorate but the Government has all along failed to provide sufficient support to them over the years, rendering it difficult for them to survive and sustain their development.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has assessed the importance of the industries in terms of their impact on the economy, society and people's livelihood in Hong Kong; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) of the respective local market share (in percentages) of the agriculture and fisheries production in Hong Kong at present, and how the current situation compares with that of a decade ago, as well as the reasons for the changes which had occurred;

(c) how the current number and areas of fish breeding grounds and farmland in Hong Kong compare with those of a decade ago, and the reasons for the changes which had occurred; whether it will consider relaxing the use of additional land and waters to provide more room for business and development of the industries; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(d) whether it will step up efforts in assisting local vessels engaged in offshore fishing; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(e) whether it will step up efforts in assisting local farmers in improving their production techniques and enhancing the quality of their agricultural products; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(f) whether it has considered developing the local industries by integrating them with other industries, including the catering and tourism industries, so as to achieve synergy; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(g) whether it will consider establishing a dedicated committee with joint participation of government officials and representatives of the industries to formulate policies on the development of the industries, with a view to assisting them in developing and establishing local quality brand names, as well as improving the quality and status of members of the industries; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(h) whether it will conduct a review of the operation of the agriculture and fisheries related loan funds, including lowering the application threshold, reducing the requirement of secured properties as loan conditions and increasing the amounts of loans or subsidies, etc., so as to facilitate financing of members of the industries; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; of the progress of the review of the Fisheries Development Loan Fund conducted by the authorities; when the "Sustainable Fisheries Funding Scheme" will be established as proposed by the Committee on Sustainable Fisheries;  

(i) whether it will conduct a review of the mechanism for granting ex-gratia payments relating to members of the industries (including offering reasonable compensation for breeding ground or farms which are contaminated by works in the vicinity or affected by avian flu) so as to provide support for members of the industries to tide over the difficulties; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(j) given that the Development Bureau is now conducting consultation on 25 potential sites suitable for reclamation, whether the authorities have enhanced communications with members of the fisheries industry in Hong Kong and explained the situation to them, as well as assessed the impact of reclamation on them; if they have, of the details, if not, the reasons for that;

(k) whether it has put in place any new measure to assist members of the industries in restructuring by developing leisure agriculture and fishery trades and eco-tourism with Hong Kong characteristics, including setting up inter-departmental ad hoc groups to assist in solving problems of lack of co-ordination among government departments and providing training for members of the industries, with a view to providing ownership and re-employment opportunities for them; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(l) of the new initiatives to help the industries establish sustainable and competitive local quality brand names to open up more local and overseas sales channels; and

(m) whether it has put in place any policy or specific measure to ensure that a balance is struck between safeguarding the ecological environment for birds and maintaining sustainable development of the industries; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     In the process of urbanisation, many countries have experienced the relocation of agriculture and fisheries industries away from densely populated urban areas.  While Hong Kong, which is small in size and densely populated, is undergoing rapid urbanisation, the Government still makes every effort to support these primary industries and endeavour to promote the development of local agriculture and fisheries.  Thus Hong Kong, while being a world financial centre, can continue to leverage on its advantages of natural resources and quality brands to create agricultural and fisheries products with local characteristics.  A revised provision of $115 million in 2011-12 has been dedicated to the development of the agricultural and fisheries industries.  The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) aims to assist the industries to move to high value-added operations by advancing the production techniques and technologies, raising the output and quality of products, as well as searching for marketable new species suitable for local production.  AFCD also encourages the industries to grasp the opportunity of developing the local market to provide a stable supply of agricultural products for the local community.  My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) Farming in Hong Kong is of relatively small scale, with leafy vegetables, pigs and poultry as the main produce, whereas the fisheries industry with its long history represents an important cultural heritage symbol of Hong Kong.  The agricultural production (approximately $0.74 billion, a 20% increase as compared to $0.615 billion in 2010) and fisheries production (approximately $2.513 billion, a 10% increase as compared to $2.275 billion in 2010) in 2011 accounted for less than 1% of the Gross Domestic Product.  Through intensive land use and production methods plus modern techniques, local agriculture and fisheries industries provide Hong Kong with fresh, quality and safe food.  Their efforts towards conservation and sustainable development have also achieved notable results.

     From a social perspective, about 4 600 people in Hong Kong are involved in agriculture and about 11 000 directly engaged in fisheries.  In addition, a considerable number of people are working in their ancillary sectors, such as wholesale and retail marketing, transportation, and logistics support for fishing vessels.

(b) The output and market share of major local agricultural and fisheries products in 2001 and 2011 are set out in Annex.

     Agriculture is shrinking in scale amid the on-going economic and urban development of Hong Kong.  On top of that, the decrease in the number of local live pig and poultry farms over the past decade is partly attributable to the Government's drive for public health and anti-pollution (e.g. the introduction of the voluntary licence surrender scheme).  With the appreciation of Renminbi in recent years, we have witnessed more local fishing vessels selling their catch directly on the Mainland, resulting in the declining market share of fisheries products for local consumption.  This reduction in production, however, does not reflect a corresponding reduction in value as producers are channeling their efforts towards species of high quality and high value.

(c) Farming in Hong Kong is undertaken mostly in urban fringes.  About 1 350 hectares of land was farmed in 2001 for active agricultural production (including vegetables, flowers, field crops and fruit trees), as compared to about 730 hectares in 2011.  The existing total area of local fish farms (including licensed areas of freshwater fish ponds and mariculture farms) shows a slight increase over ten years ago, from about 1 090 hectares in 2001 to about 1 159 hectares in 2011.

     Attaching great importance to development issues and environmental changes, the Government reviews in a timely manner the land uses in all districts.  For the relaxation in the designation of sea area for mariculture, AFCD will follow up with relevant Bureaux/Departments to review the existing moratorium on issue of new licence for mariculture operations.

(d) Local fishermen, operating mainly in Hong Kong waters or the South China Sea, are seldom engaged in offshore fishing.  Nevertheless, appropriate assistance (e.g. technical support, training, and credit facilities) is available from AFCD to interested fishermen.

(e) The Government will continue to provide farmers with infrastructural and technical support to facilitate the development of agricultural production which is modern, high-yielding, safe and environmentally friendly.  An example is the on-going identification of new species with good marketability and suitable for local production, which should help meet market demand and increase the financial incomes of local farmers.  Quality species developed in recent years include organic strawberry, small-fruited tomato/pumpkin, red flesh watermelon and green flesh rock melon.  Vigorous efforts have also been made in promoting organic farming and sustainable pest and disease control, as well as resolving technical issues like horticulture and soil management and seed saving.  With AFCD's implementation of the Organic Farming Support Service Scheme, the total number of organic farms in the territory has reached 182, and 92 of them have been accredited by the Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre.

(f) The popular pursuit for a green lifestyle in recent years has brought about new development opportunities for the local agricultural industry.  Taking advantage of the rural landscape and ecology, many farms have developed into leisure farms where production, recreational and educational activities are all found.  With the emergence of leisure farms, local agriculture has become an active player in healthy living, ecological education and environmental protection and is developing towards further diversification.

     To enhance their competitiveness, fishermen are also exploring opportunities for development and transformation beyond the line of production.  New business fields and modes are being opened up, and recreational fishing is one such example.  In Hong Kong, there is a wide variety of recreational fishing activities, including leisure fishing, fishermen culture and marine eco-tourism.  Quite a number of fishermen have switched to these operations.

     Please also refer to my reply in part (k) for information about leisure farming and recreational fishing.

(g) With a view to fostering the development of local agriculture and fisheries, the Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries has been set up under AFCD to engage members of the industries and other sectors in formulating agricultural and fisheries policies and initiatives.

     In late 2006, the Committee on Sustainable Fisheries was set up to study the long-term direction and goals for the development of the territory's fisheries industry as well as feasible strategies and options to promote its sustainability.  It has submitted a report on issues relating to the sustainable development of fisheries and we are progressively taking forward the recommendations.

(h) AFCD's loan funds have played a crucial role in the development of agriculture and fisheries over the past decades by providing the necessary funding to advance the industries.

     For agriculture, the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Loan Fund, the J.E. Joseph Trust Fund and the Vegetable Marketing Organization Loan Fund offer loans to local farmers for the purposes of agricultural production and development.  The loans issued in 2011 totalled $6.7 million and provided effective support to our agricultural development.  The present maximum amount of low-interest unsecured loans available to a farmer is $130,000.  We will review the loaning conditions from time to time in light of the views of the industry.

     For the fisheries industry, on recommendation of the Committee on Sustainable Fisheries, a review of relevant fisheries loan funds is underway.  The issues covered include the loan purposes, the collaterals, the loan amounts and the processing of applications, with a view to providing more appropriate financial support for the sustainable development of the fisheries industry.  We will submit our proposals as soon as possible to the Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene and the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council for their consideration or approval.  

(i) Under the existing mechanism, farmers whose farms are affected by public works (e.g. contamination or land acquisition) may request and negotiate for compensations direct with the works department concerned (e.g. the Lands Department).  As regards the compensation for birds slaughtered due to bird flu, the amount payable is provided for by section 6(4) of the Public Health (Animals and Birds) Ordinance (Cap. 139 of the Laws of Hong Kong).  Revision of the levels of compensation is subject to discussion and legislative amendment by the Legislative Council.

     On ex-gratia allowance to the fisheries industry, the Food and Health Bureau and AFCD are reviewing the ex-gratia allowances for mariculturists and capture fishermen.  Members of the industry have been kept informed, and the review will soon be completed.

(j) The Development Bureau is now conducting the public engagement on enhancing land supply strategy to seek the views of the public on reclamation on an appropriate scale outside Victoria Harbour and rock cavern development as well as to establish the site selection criteria.  During the consultation process, there was feedback suggesting that the preliminary site selection criteria were quite abstract and that the Government could provide some examples on possible reclamation proposals for public discussions.  After reviewing the coastlines over the territory and excluding those seriously constrained areas unsuitable for reclamation, the Development Bureau has come up with 25 possible reclamation sites to facilitate the community's discussion of the site selection criteria from social, economic and environmental perspectives in line with the principles of sustainable development.  Members of the fisheries industry also attended the topical discussion and public forums held in January and February 2012, and expressed their views.

     The Development Bureau has yet to decide whether to carry out reclamation outside Victoria Harbour and the criteria to be adopted in selecting reclamation sites.  The possible types and locations of reclamation are also subject to change in light of public views.  As a way forward, the Bureau will study the feedback from the community (including the fisheries industry) about reclamation, draw up the site selection criteria and identify feasible sites to be put forward for public consultation.  Concerned districts and organisations will also be consulted.

(k) Leisure farming, recreational fishing and eco-tourism are new businesses gathering momentum in Hong Kong in recent years.  Statistics show that there are currently over 100 leisure farms in the territory.  These farms offer a variety of activities for visitors, such as picking of farmland produce, farmland for lease and farming experiences.  To optimise the operation of local leisure farms, AFCD organised a "Seminar on Leisure Farms" in 2010.  Apart from farming techniques, topics such as marketing skills and farm management were also covered in the seminar to help farmers acquire various aspects of knowledge in leisure farming.  AFCD also promoted the interflow of ideas by inviting overseas academics and trade representatives in 2011 to share their successful experience with local farmers.  AFCD will continue to provide technical assistance to those who are interested in operating leisure farms.

     To make it more convenient for the public to visit leisure farms and to enhance their understanding of and interest in leisure farming in Hong Kong, AFCD has published "A Guide to Hong Kong Leisure Farms" for free distribution through schools, District Councils, libraries, etc.  An interactive webpage ( which enables easy display and search of information on leisure farms has also been launched jointly by AFCD and the Federation of Vegetable Marketing Co-operative Societies Ltd.  The above Guide can also be downloaded from this website.

     On the front of recreational fishing, AFCD introduced a scheme in 2002 which allows fish farmers to operate leisure fishing business on their fish rafts provided that the mariculture environment and public safety are safeguarded.  So far, 38 licensees in 11 fish culture zones have participated in the scheme.  Moreover, AFCD has been providing technical support and training to fishermen who are interested in switching to recreational fishing.  Courses are provided on the operation of pleasure crafts and passenger carrying vessels as well as the operation of recreational fishing.  Participants are introduced the concepts of eco-tourism, local resources of fisheries tourism, and the basic operation, practices and management of recreational fishing.  About 80 fishermen have completed the training over the past two years.

     In collaboration with local fishermen, AFCD has also undertaken since 2010 a pilot scheme of fisheries eco-tourism in Sai Kung, northeast New Territories and southern Hong Kong Island to help fishermen venture into eco-tourism.  Among those endeavours of larger scale are the Lamma Fisherfolk's Village and dolphin watching in Tai O.  Many fishermen in Sai Kung are also switching their business to marine-based tourism activities, including pleasure boats hiring, recreational fishing on fish rafts, coral appreciation and eco-tourism.  So far, over 200 fishermen have received training under the pilot scheme.  AFCD is now exploring collaboration opportunities with fishermen in other districts to extend the coverage of the scheme.

     Fishermen may also apply to the Marine Fish Scholarship Fund or the Continuing Education Fund for subsidies to take relevant courses.  We will review the terms of fisheries loans and explore other modes of financial assistance to help fishermen in their business transformation.  AFCD will continue to co-operate with the Tourism Commission and other government departments in the planning of district-based tourism to help fishermen develop tourism projects featuring fisherfolk culture.

(l) AFCD provides proactive assistance to the local agricultural and fisheries industries to promote their products and build up quality brands.  Such promotional efforts include weekend Farmers' Markets and large-scale carnivals, media advertisements, road shows, participation in local and overseas food expos, and food-tasting activities.  The 6th FARMFEST held by AFCD early this year featured over 100 local farmers and fishermen and attracted more than 200 000 visitors to the event.

     Apart from publicity targeted at the general public, AFCD has launched for farmers the Accredited Farm Scheme.  Vegetables from participating farms have to pass quality assurance tests on pesticide residues to ensure compliance with food safety standards, thus fostering consumers' confidence.  To date, a total of 259 local farms have been accredited by the scheme.

     For the fisheries industry, AFCD has introduced a voluntary Accredited Fish Farm Scheme to enhance the competitiveness of the local aquaculture industry.  Participating fish farms are required to implement a set of Good Aquaculture Practices, and the cultured fish have to pass quality assurance tests before sale to ensure compliance with food safety standards.  To date, a total of 105 fish farms, representing 21% of the total area of local fish farms, have been accredited by the scheme.  Quality local aquaculture products may also be expected to enter the Mainland as the Fish Marketing Organization is working on the venture through the Mainland/Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA).

(m) AFCD maintains close liaison with farmers and fishermen to provide technical support (e.g. talks and individual consultation) and jointly explore and implement various effective measures to prevent birds from foraging for or damaging crops and fish stock.  Examples are the installation of cost-effective and simple bird-proofing nets above the crops, and putting up strings and buntings above fish ponds.  These measures work well in preventing bird nuisances without endangering the birds.

     In addition, AFCD provides support to nature conservation management agreement projects undertaken by non-governmental organisations with local farmers or fishermen.  In Long Valley, for instance, as a result of such collaboration among the Conservancy Association, the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society and local farmers and landowners, farming activities are able to continue while the nature conservation value of the place is enhanced.  Separately, the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society is working with fish farmers to restore and enhance the ecological value of the commercial fish ponds in the northwest New Territories.

     AFCD will continue to utilise its expertise and resources to provide assistance to farmers and fishermen in order to safeguard the supply of agricultural and fisheries products while promoting the ecological well-being of Hong Kong.

Ends/Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Issued at HKT 17:11


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