“Development can mean more than urban development. It’s a choice,” says Becky Au, owner and founder of Mapopo Community Farm.
In today’s world, with only seven square kilometres of Hong Kong’s land used as farmland, it’s a challenge to find even a small patch that can be used for farming. But Mapopo Community Farm have made it their mission to do just that.
Au complains that the villagers of Ma Shi Po have had their homes taken away from them, and they never get a say in the matter.
“I understand that both the city and rural areas have their own cultures, and I appreciate that,” Au says. “But they’re interdependent, in the sense that they provide for each other. We take kitchen waste from the city to use as organic fertilisers, and in return we give them our crops. But right now, the government is trying to force all of us into one single lifestyle, a lifestyle where our choices don’t matter.
“We’re not asking much – only a chance for all of Hong Kong to choose the ‘development’ that we want to invest in.”
The future isn’t just luxury hotels
Mapopo Community Farm was founded with the idea of proving that sustainable development doesn’t only have to rely on commercial buildings and luxurious hotels.
Au was studying economics at university, but when she found out that villagers were being forced by the government to leave their homes, she decided to give up her studies to take action and protect her village.
“It wasn’t a decision as much as an obligation. It’s my duty to protect my home. The mere thought of losing this place that means so much to me … it’s unimaginable,” she says.
From around 1940 to 1950, people fled the mainland and came to Hong Kong. They settled down in Ma Shi Po, forming a village. Au is a third generation villager, along with a lot of other people who currently live in Ma Shi Po.
“This village is more than a home to all of us. Stories live in here; told to us by our parents. If our village is destroyed, the stories will be lost, too. Mapopo Community Farm reminds us that we have to act and protect what we love – Ma Shi Po, our home.”
The government’s responsibility
Au claims that the government is to blame for the disappearing village. “The government claims we don’t have enough land for public houses, but just a few kilometres away from here is a golf course which is almost thrice the size of Mapopo Community Farm. If we’re really that desperate for land, that golf course could provide more than our homes could. It’s obvious that the government’s policies accommodate the rich and elite,” she says.
Au is unhappy with the way officials take from the poor to satisfy the rich. She believes that this is also one of the reasons for the huge divide between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong.
“A lot of the government’s promises and proposals don’t reflect their actions – I’m sure the reason for this is related to money or political pressure to keep certain people or businesses happy,” says Au.
By 2017, the beautiful scenery of the Ng Tung River will be gone due to the North East New Territories New Development, taking part of the village’s history with it.
A long time ago, before the Ng Tung River was channelised, villagers used to do lots of different things along the riverbank or on the water, Au recalls.
“People used to fish and canoe there. We were very reliant on the river,” she says. “But the frequent flooding caused us a lot of trouble, and the government decided to channelise the river. A lot of our problems were solved, but then, the developers moved in.”
Au says the villagers wish the government had never channelised the river, claiming that “floods are bad, but the developers are worse. At least we still had a home to rebuild then”.
Raising awareness of the problem
An art festival was held in honour of the Ng Tung River from December to January, in which Mapopo Community Farm was also involved. In the art festival, one of the events was a literary walk along Ng Tung River, allowing visitors to appreciate the scenery for one of the last times in a literary sense.
Tsui Siu-hong, one of the organisers of the festival, says: “The purpose of the art festival was to let more people understand that Hong Kong’s land can be used for more than building commercial buildings. Ma Shi Po is a really nice place. Local villagers live here peacefully, and shouldn’t be disturbed, really.”
“We’re all disappointed about the river, but it’s not like we can do much about it now,” Au says. “This perfectly demonstrates how the villagers get no say at all, while the government pulls the strings for personal interests.
“We definitely hope that the development programme will be cancelled, and the government will introduce some real policies where we actually get to have a say in our future.”
We need to act now
In a city that is as money-obsessed as Hong Kong, not many people think about what is lost through urban development and politics.
Au urges the government to reconsider the North East development project, and realise the importance of preserving farmland and villages with history. By being forced to leave despite the fact that they own the land, villagers are denied rights promised by the government.
Au hopes that, in the future, more people will realise they have to act, and hopefully create more “Mapopos” across Hong Kong. “This is a much better way of fighting than demonstrations or protests,” Au says. “We are working towards a sustainable Hong Kong that can provide for itself. It might not be possible in the short term, but Mapopo Community Farm is a possibility for the future.”