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“InnoFriday” Talk #3 Review: – Hydroponics – Does indoor agriculture provide sustainable food security for Hong Kong?

Farming has been neglected by Hong Kong for quite some time. Alarmed by the chain of food safety concerns in recent years, however, the people of Hong Kong suddenly realize that farming is almost extinct in our society. More than 90% of the food in Hong Kong is imported nowadays, meaning that our city’s self-sufficiency in food supply is extremely low.  Against this background, the introduction of hydroponics to Hong Kong has become a hot topic these days. Gordon Tam, founder of Farm 66 and Johnny Lau, core member of Liber Research Community, were invited to the third InnoFriday Talk on Sept 4 to share their views on whether hydroponics (especially when coupled with aquaponics) can become a sustainable solution for crop productions in Hong Kong.

Johnny’s sharing on the development of hi-tech hydroponics in Hong Kong was based on a report named “The Hydroponics Industry – a preliminary study on its development in Hong Kong” produced by the Liber Research Community in April. The development of hydroponics in Hong Kong can be traced as far back as 1960s, and the Hong Kong Government has even carried out massive research on the subject in 1980s and 90s. But it was not until 2012 that the first Controlled Environment Hydroponic Research and Development Centre (C.E.H.R&D Centre) was set up. Local-based hydroponic farms have undoubtedly helped to shorten the “food mileage” of vegetable produce, but other factors such as energy consumption and the use of chemical liquid nutrients may also have undesirable impacts on the environment. Johnny, therefore, held the view that hydroponics should be evaluated in a holistic way, such as to include more data for a comprehensive analysis of the entire production process.

Another guest speaker, Gordon Tam, elaborated on the advancement of aquaponics and hydroponics, using his farm factory as an example. Figures have shown that the carbon emissions of his aquaponics system are about 2.6 times lower than those of the Japan- imported hydroponics system operated by the Vegetable Marketing Organization (VMO) after LED lighting was installed. Although these figures may still be higher than those of the local soil-farmed products, they are within the same range as vegetables imported from the Asia Pacific region. Gordon’s hydroponic farm is located in an industrial building, which is in itself a response to the problem of land shortage in Hong Kong. Gordon’s dream is that a “plant factory” can appear in all 18 districts of Hong Kong, supplying fresh and safe vegetables to all local residents.

The sharing by Johnny and Gordon has shed light on the latest development of hydroponics and the farming industry in Hong Kong. Staff of COIL subsequently made a presentation on the current situation of food supply in Hong Kong, pointing out that Hong Kong at the moment does not have any mechanism to ensure food reserve or self-sufficiency in food. Should there be some natural calamities or food safety issues happening in the supply chain, the food supply of Hong Kong will be severely affected or even suspended. This gives rise to a key question: should Hong Kong continue to rely on imported food supply, or should it support hi-tech farming and rejuvenate local farming to increase local food supply and also as a supplement to food imports? We welcome anyone who is interested in this topic to join COIL as a member and contribute to further discussions. Innovative solutions are needed to help make our city truly sustainable.