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Local Organic Product Development

Chu Pui Kwan , Chairperson, Hong Kong Organic Farming Association

At the end of the 1980s, there were repeated cases of poisonous vegetables (vegetables contaminated with pesticide residues over standard and cause hospitalization of some people) happened in Hong Kong. That induced the awareness of health and environmental protection among local citizens. At that time, some environmental conscious people started to practice organic farming in the New Territories and outlying islands. In 1990s, more health food shops imported organic products from North America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Japan in responding to the popularity of health foods. Yet, since the concept of organic was still quite vague and the supply was not consistent, the product was still in a niche market.

From the 2000s, after several outbreaks of bird flu, organic farming becomes recognized by the agricultural sector and familiarized by the Hong Kong people. According to an organic vegetable marketing survey conducted by the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department in 2000, local market showed strong demands for fresh organic vegetables. The trend encourages more conscious people to establish organic farms and attracts more conventional farmers to convert to organic agriculture.

In addition, more importers and retailers are interested to explore the organic market. They introduce more and better quality organic products with wider varieties. Certain department stores and supermarkets set specific shelves for organic products. They import organic produce and processed products from China and overseas and support with promotion schemes. Now, we have a wide range of imported organic products available. These include cereal, flour, dried fruit, oils, seasonings, coffee, tea, soy-milk and juices at the beginning, and extend to vegetables, fruit, meat and various kinds of non-staples and snacks, to clothing and body care products. Those internationally recognized certified organic products are particularly well received by consumers with knowledge about organic labels.

Local organic production is mainly focused on organic vegetables. At the beginning, due to the immature production technique and lack of resources, the supply was very unstable. As a result, the production was not significant at all. After years of efforts made by the sectors and the operators with support from the government, the technical know-how is obviously improved, the supply is obviously widened. Up to the moment, so far, the production is much more stable. Yet, the supply quantity still needs to be increased while the marketing channel needs to be widened. Otherwise, the supply and demand of the organic produce cannot match easily.

Viewing of this, several local non-governmental organizations is now actively exploring different marketing channels for local organic vegetables. Other than the traditional Vegetable Marketing Organization, they develop some direct marketing systems, such as membership systems and collective purchase (consumer co-operatives), for consumers to obtain organic produce and for organic farmers to survive.

In 2002, the Organic Resource Center was established to set a local organic standard and certification system. The system will build trust between producers and consumers and may create a unique image for locally grown organic produce. The Hong Kong Organic Farming Association and the sector are still full of confidence for the business and hope that the product can become mainstream in the future.

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