Use waste and spare the farmers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 1994, 12:00am

I REFER to the recent protest by farmers over tighter controls of livestock waste disposal.

Critics routinely denounce farmers as polluters and no one shows concern for the farmers' well-being.

Although I fully understand the magnitude of the pollution threatening our health, I must say such a short-sighted view on the issue is socially irresponsible.

Critics must suggest alternatives for farmers to sustain their livelihood while complying with environmental concerns.

Like any business people, farmers have to make a living. If farmers are driven out of business, they may turn their farmland over to storage.

Such abuse of farmland is already a serious problem. The Government has just announced a clean-up plan for such land costing $1.9 billion (that's our tax money). This is not solving a problem, but moving a problem from one place to another.

The Government provided an ex gratia allowance for farmers who could not financially comply with the regulation to give up farming, which amounted to $180 million in 1992.

Why not provide a low-interest loan for them to build facilities to comply with the law instead? The Government has a moral obligation to nurture an industry, not destroy it.

According to Environment Hong Kong 1993 published by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) in 1992, livestock waste produced daily totalled 1,000 tonnes or the equivalent of human waste produced by one million people.

The forecast for 1994 daily livestock waste was equivalent to human waste produced by 250,000 people, thus, let us assume that the present level of daily manure production is 250 tonnes.

The book also claims that the Government had built a composting plant in the New Territories capable of treating 50 tonnes of manure daily and organised free manure collection service. Simple calculation shows that building four other factories like this would solve all the livestock waste problem.

Hong Kong has 1,078 square km of market gardens and other crop lands, according to government statistics. This much cultured land, if it went organic, would absorb some 600,000 tonnes of fertilisers yearly. Locally-produced compost alone could sustain existing farmland organically.

As a Sunday gardener, I spend a fortune buying organic fertiliser, that is manure, imported from Europe. Such an inefficient use of locally-produced resources due to the lack of networking between industries simply make me sick.

Honestly, Hong Kong people could learn how to be a little bit more self-sufficient.

In Japan, where I come from, opinion leaders used to advocate ''international job sharing'': while Japan produces and exports industrial products, it imports food produced on large farms in the United States, because domestic labour-intensive farming can never be competitive.

The Japanese Government has not really given serious thought to the preservation of agriculture. As a result, the nation today faces a serious shortage of rice. Agricultural chemicals heavily used in large-scale farming have become one of the major health concerns.

If Hong Kong turned completely commercial or financial simply because this creates more wealth in dollar terms, it would be suicide. If we truly seek a beautiful environment, we must come up with a solution both feasible and beneficial to each and every member of the society.