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A foreign worker gathers Gotu Kola plants for a customer in Green Circle Eco Farm at Lim Chu Kang, February 7, 2015. (Source : blog.nus.edu.sg)

The reminisce of Singapore’s farming history and worry for the future

On 30 July, Mr Tan Cheng Bock wrote in his Facebook page that he just had a reunion in Johor a week ago with his friends who were farmers from where he used to live at Lim Chu Kang villages.

Mr Tan and his neighbors were evicted by the government thirty years ago and resettled to various parts of Singapore. He moved out of Teck Whye, while many others went to Punggol, Boon Lay and Jurong.

"Many were at wits end and gave up. Some went to Johore and started all over again," he said. The reunion brought happiness to him as he met old patients and friends of old Lim Chu Kang, especially those from Ama Keng, and learned that all of them are successful in whatever they are doing right now.

Some also commented about the nostalgic moments that they cherish about the place. Simon Lim wrote, "As a boy, I stayed at Thong Hoe and I walked to my school in Ama Keng and back everyday. We lived in a coconut plantation and I still remember that when it rained, big centipedes used climb up our beds. We would lowered the mosquito nets around our beds every night when we slept. Those were really our growing up nostalgia years."

"Lim Chu Kang, track 11- is where I used to stay... Missed the vegetables growing farm, pig farming, Orchid growing etc in the older days where all the household don't lock up & free access to our neighbors," said Jacqueline Lee.

Mr Devan Vasu expressed his disappointment on the eviction. He wrote, "Many alike kampongs and workers quarters had a close bonding. Look now we are put in cages..stress. Now worse still cut all our hills and deprive our greenery making way for FTs. NO MORE BUKITS."

The government had a huge demand of adequate supply of land after its independence in 1965, in order to fulfill its developmental projects, especially those concerning resettlement and industrialisation. The Land Acquisition Act was passed by parliament on 26 October 1966 to replace The Land Acquisition Ordinance of 1920 to give the government the power of compulsory land acquisition for public development. It also regulated the amount of compensation that would be given to landowners whose properties were being acquired by the government.

The act was amended in 1973 in order to curb land speculation and limit the cost of land acquisition. The compensation amount for acquired land at the market value was being fixed at 30 November 1973 or at the date of gazette notification, whichever was lower.

A total of 43,713 acres (17,690 ha or 177 sq km) was acquired by the government between 1959 and 1984, this was constituted about one-third of the total land area of Singapore then. The increasing of acquiring land parcels made the government to be the biggest landowner by 1985, 76.2 percent of the land in the country compared with only 31 percent in 1949.

In November 2014, Singapore Land Authority (SLA) announced that 62 farmers in Lim Chu Kang will have to relocate and tender for new plots designated by the government, although the farmers have noted that the new plots are substantially smaller than their current locations. The new land leases were doubled, from 10 years to 21 years

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) stated that the farms affected by redevelopment plans with tenures expiring in 2017 will have it extended until the end of 2019. AVA said that the extension was meant for the farms to have sufficient transit time.  The government had informed in 2014 that their leases would expire in 2015 and since the government needed the land for redevelopment they will have to move out and tender for new plots which would be open in end of 2015.

The extensive land preparation works needed at the new sites, therefore, the first tranche land sales which will begin from early 2017.

Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said that it requires the land for military purposes in the development of Tengah New Town in the west area of Singapore.

No compensation will be given in the works to aid them in their move, which means that all the money invested in the initial setting up and construction in the farmers' current plots of land will likely go to waste.

The farmers in Lim Chu Kang are not only operating on a daily basis for agricultural output, they are also organising educational farm tours and stay. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) erecting signages which identify the area as tourists point of interest.

Wide array of farming businesses can be found in the area, from vegetable plots to frog farms to farms raising goats for their milk. But 62 farms, out of 100 farms, will have to move out and still meet the minimum production levels and land use condition for them to be able to apply new leases or extensions.

The criteria for land-based and non-food farms is that 90 percent of their land production must be used and the have to meet minimum output levels, according to the Ministry of National Development (MND) in 2014.

When public interest was raised over the eviction of the 62 farmers after media (especially Channel 5's feature) featured stories on the matter, an lease extension to 20 years was given by AVA for the farmers to have enough time to reap returns.

AVA's chief executive officer Tan Poh Hong said: "Farmers have given us feedback that investing in technology and automation requires a longer pay back period. The longer 20-year lease tenure will provide more certainty to farms and enable them to invest in intensive, highly productive technologies that operate on minimal manpower."

Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon stated, "Farming is an important sector, even though it's a small part of our economy, because it is is one way in which we can ensure our food security. While we import most of our food from overseas, there will always be a risk of disruption to our food supply, so having some degree of farming capability locally will ensure that we have a means to cope with sudden supply disruptions."