Sep 13, 2012|
Ma Shi Po is a village made up of non-indigenous villagers. Around seventy years ago, the first wave of villagers fled from war on mainland and settled in this village in Northern Fanling. They rented the land from indigenous villagers; they tilled the fields; they built their own houses with bricks and wood. More and more people came and settled in Ma Shi Po; at its peak, more than 700 families lived in the village.
While villagers were living a quiet life, developers were eyeing up the land for its development potential. In 1996, Henderson Land started purchasing large tracts of land from Ma Shi Po’s indigenous villagers. Currently, about 80 percent of land in Ma Shi Po is owned by Henderson, while 20 percent is held by indigenous villagers who haven’t sold their land as well as a few Ma Shi Po villagers who were fortunate enough to have bought their own land.
While Henderson was waiting for the government’s development plans, it also sent staff to get rid of the residents for fear that they would be troublemakers. They stopped renting the land to villagers; they sent legal letters to threaten residents. Ma Shi Po has good-quality farmland where food can be grown, but because of the developer’s actions, much of the land in Ma Shi Po is strewn with weeds. But while the farmers consider it a crime not to farm on perfectly good land, this matters little to the developers. Some of the residents living in the nearby high-rises offered to sign a contract promising to stop farming once the development plan commenced, and that they would not claim any compensation. But the developer refused to grant them even this small concession. So the residents snuck into the abandoned land to grow vegetables—but even their small farming efforts were shut down—the developer’s staff put up wire fences and forbade anyone to “intrude” on their property.
Two years ago, two girls Becky Au and Cho Kai-kai—both of the Post-80s generation—felt that the time for more action had come. With the help of volunteers, they set up Mapopo Community Farm. “We want to tell the public that there can be another way to develop the land, while we continue to oppose government planning. We don’t want to halt development, but we hope that it can be carried out in a better direction,” says Cho. Thanks to their efforts, four farming households have now switched from traditional farming to organic agriculture. They dutifully collect food waste from the neighboring restaurants and compost it, turning it into nutrients for crops. A range of activities, including eco-tours and farming classes, have been organized to generate income.
But Mapopo is much more than an organic farm. “On the surface, we are setting up a farm, but actually, this is a grassroots organization,” Cho says. Mapopo Community Farm is a rallying point for the villagers of Ma Shi Po. It spreads information related to development; it also organizes villagers to join consultation sessions and attend protests.
On the face of it, it seems unlikely that the village can escape the claws of development, but Mapopo Community Farm will certainly continue to fight. “It will be a long battle,” Cho says.