Growing rice makes comeback in outlying Hong Kong

Updated: 2014-09-16 07:01

By Justine Gerardy in Hong Kong(China Daily)

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It's a rural tradition that faded out decades ago as Hong Kong turned into a neon-lit megacity: Rice seedlings gently stuffed into the soil of watery paddy fields.

But now a new wave of farmers are growing the staple again in sleepy Long Valley in the city's northern New Territories, where buzzing insects and flocking birds offer a rich contrast to the high-rise blocks in the distance.

Former supermarket supervisor Kan Wai-hong went from working late shifts to harvesting sacks of fragrant, golden rice.

"In the past, people in Hong Kong grew rice," said Kan, 42, about his move. "I could teach the people again and revive rice farming."

Naturally farmed rice paddies started reappearing in Long Valley seven years ago after a 40-odd-year absence.

In what started as part of a bird-friendly wetland conservation project, five farmers now produce about 3 metric tons of rice a year near the border with Hong Kong's biggest food supplier, the Chinese mainland.

It's a tiny fraction of the 833 tons of rice that Hong Kong goes through every day, but it fetches several times the price of mass-produced imports as part of a growing demand for naturally grown food.

A run of food scandals across the border -including rotten meat in fast food, recycled "gutter oil", and heavy pesticide use - has made people rethink the way they shop.

"The trend of society has changed. People have become more affluent and they care more about food safety - so more people have come into contact with these products," said Kan.

Hong Kong, one of the world's most densely populated places, imports nearly all of its food -only 2 percent of its vegetables are locally grown. But the number of organic-style vegetable farms has increased from a handful of trailblazers in the 1990s to several hundred today.

"The government is doing quite a good job in Hong Kong," said Jonathan Wong, director of the Hong Kong Organic Resource Center. "We're scared, but we have a better control system now. The supply in Hong Kong is still safe, but we worry."

Agence France-Presse