by Chingwei Chen
by Chingwei Chen
I smell a smell that has become familiar to me. It is fetid—acrid smoke rises from the pan—its propagator aptly having a name with four letters. Foul to some, yet fervently used by others. While some call it The Devil’s Dung, it will be the base for lunch. Different coloured lentils stew over the stove; I pick out the gases it leaves behind that if not would turn into farts. The mountains gleam through my kitchen’s greased-up windows. I am surrounded by the tallest peaks in the world. More than gleam, the mountains radiate. It is a rare thing to be able to see them this time of year. But the imposed lockdown has brought the clearest, bluest skies in decades. The sun comes in strong bursts through the monsoon clouds, just earlier roaring, as though being born for the first time. Under the shine, slices of white radish that will turn brown and flavourful pickle away. A cast-pan of greens fry, potatoes bubble waiting for spice, rice steam away in an iron pot. Is this the smell of home?
While lunch sorts itself out, I sort out my pantry. Potatoes, cabbages, beans, a couple of gourds. There has been less to choose from these days. This year’s especially heavy monsoon has drowned crops and brought pests to eat what remained. Evenmore, like an ominous scene from the bible, the locusts came. All heads turned to the sky when the swarm flew in unhindered by the pandemic we were all under. A moment where one was not sure if one should gawk or if one should awe, or if one should perhaps do both. One, two, three, twenty-three, four-hundred-and-twenty, four-hundred-and-twenty-one… counting them was impossible. The swarm seemed to make the lost, usual, grey, and heady haze come back. Nature is a sight indeed, both in ultimate forms of beauty and ugliness, whether of creation or tragedy. Heads turned back to the ground when they left, looking further down than where their toes lay, not knowing what would happen next.
The lockdown has brought different ways. Farmers harvest unripely, anxious to make sales. Villagers whose yearly income and families depend on seasonal foraging are unable to do their jobs. Prices are hiked. Fruits are limited. Many vegetables are unavailable. Cheaper-priced produce now come from a country two borders down, sprayed with fresheners to make the journey. If not, arrive with a cloud of enveloping mould. Home-grown vegetables have become the best option. Sellers come by pushing their carts, making their rounds around the neighbourhood in the wee hours of the morning before the blares of authorities arrive. We must vacate before the sun rises. It is during such that sometimes rules must be broken in order to survive. Neighbourhood grocery shops close their front doors openly but open their back doors closely, providing some much needed provisions during this time; their highest sales are packed instant food, beer, and long cigarette rolling papers. An empty stomach is more worrisome than clogged up lungs, hunger being one of the hardest thing a living thing should ever endure. At this moment, my partner walks through the door with today’s slaughter. A young adolescent brings the load fresh to the butcher every morning and evening, trudging from the local slaughterhouse with his bicycle and the daily carcasses. Today we have lung, intestine, parts of spine, parts we cannot decipher, thick pieces of hide, and an eyeball. The butcher’s wife says we must keep the better, meatier cuts for humans to eat. There has been less slaughters, she had explained, next to the lad huffing by his worn-out vehicle. Nonetheless, our dogs will be happy. Here, my companions lay. Where am I? I must be home.
In the middle of the main road that rings the capital, a red chariot 13-men-tall, carrying the giver of rain, sits silently. The only sound coming is the sound of rain falling on rotting wood. But just shortly before, the chariot was being pulled by 800 men, all in protest, screaming slurs in between hips of hoorahs, violently parading down, fighting for the right to celebrate tradition. They had been waiting to conduct their yearly procession since the beginning of the lockdown. In the end, the crowd was hushed with tear gas and water cannons. The God of Rain was not blessed. As tears rushed down the faces of all parties that day, one wondered, will more crops join what has already been drowned?
The night of the full moon is looming. The next festival will arrive shortly. It will be 10-days-long, starting when the moon is still half-asleep, and ending when she is in full bloom. It is a celebration for the victory of good over evil, marking the day when their goddess defeated the demons. It starts with a grand platter. A conglomeration of grilled buffalo meat marinated with a very generous amount of green and red chillies, a large variety of spices, and then still further spiced by dunking in mustard oil; dried and fried fish; rice, flattened and puffed; roasted black soybeans; different types of lentil patties, some fried with mince, some with egg, some served as is; spiced potatoes; eggs, boiled then fried; fresh and dried fruits; fresh garlic and ginger; several types of bread, sweet and savoury; and lastly, not forgetting, moonshine distilled from different rice, grains, and millets. The meal symbolises luck, fortune, and wealth. It would be a long awaited meal for it was only on festive days as such that anyone could have one—the same feast that they offer to their Gods, with the only exception being that a platter for a God is just as the mountain ranges they sit in, tall majestic, with each peak topped with a smoked fish, whole. Today, normally, a human-portioned meal is readily available at many local eateries.
This feast, however, is not all that is offered. On the eighth day of the ten days— with its people celebrating eating copious amounts of meat throughout— it is the Goddess’ turn to be fed. A blood-thirsty manifestation of her will arrive. Thousands of buffaloes, goats, hens, and ducks must be beheaded to feed her. I was here at the same time last year. I saw animals come and carcasses leaving. Piled one on top of the other, all missing heads, pulled away in a wagon by just a young boy, leaving the city’s stray dogs to lick up what was left. The air was thick with blood. The streets were stained red for weeks after. But this year, what will happen if an angry, hungry goddess is not fed? A quote intrusively resounds: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. This year, will the mountains of offerings come? The mountains that corner every crook of every of the many narrow alleyways that make the veins of the city; will they appear? Will blood flow down the paths of the valley? This lunar year, will the Gods be fed?
Around this time, a festival of my roots also draws closer. I should be labouring in the kitchen, pounding with my pestle, freshly roasted peanuts for its oil. Syrup will be simmering, the lye is ready. I omit the egg wash for my daughter’s allergies but I do not miss out the element of ornament that they must have; they are still traditionally hand-shaped in animals of different sorts. I place them ready to eat in her lunchbox, together with her lantern, ready for her to bring to school. She will show them off to her friends, homemade animals of the moon, a benefit of having allergies and a mother around. During this lockdown, I reminiscence. I miss the flavour of lotus and winter melon. I miss the meaning of a golden egg. I miss the reunions of families. I miss flying to the moon. I have been living on and off the road for almost six years, moving between paradises in slums and slums in paradises. Now, I am here, 4,986 kilometres away from what was home, stuck in a lockdown, sitting at 1,400 metres high, yet—I am home.
With the length of the lockdown, I have seen the seasons change from warm to cold, and then back to warmish again. It should be warmer, as it was last year, but the weather has been dampened by the prolonged monsoon. We have yet to have a sunny week here. And it has begun to get colder again. Coming from the equator, seasons bewilder me. Plants I have never seen flower before bloom underneath my feet. Fruits of different colours and climates come and go, short-lived and cherished. People come out later when it is cold. I hear yawns softly ringing down my alley. Children start school later; laughter is delayed. Veggie and meat vendors open their shops later too, when the slowing sun has finally reached theirs. The dogs come around, basking in the treasured sunlight while it it out. In the summer, tea shops are open before dawn, ready to serve their regular customers already there. Even the cake shop is open for business. People here like their sweets for breakfast. My favourite breakfast spot, serving deep-fried, poofed bread, will already be flocked with my neighbours from around, all ready with empty bags to take some back home for their families. In fall, the time around now, the Mid-Autumn Festival finally makes sense. Today, I am blessed with a sunny day wedged in between rainfall; I appropriately say my prayers for a good harvest this year.
As I watch children fly kites from the rooftops instead of carrying lit lanterns down the streets, I wonder how the meanings of things have change. Though I think of celebrating this year with a samay baji instead of a goehpia, are things really so different? I am fed, I am warm, I am with family. Whether home is here or home is back—I am fed, I am warm, I am with family. Must it matter that a golden egg means nothing here? I watch the kites try to bite each other down. They brace the arriving festival, kite-flying being an important part of it; they are asking the Gods to stop sending rain. As the big day closes in, even more kites will come. Maybe, soon, the sun will come to stay.
lost.kucing_ is a cat with no and many homes. With a jade-and-white rabbit and two black-and-white dogs, she lives (though always temporal) on a little street aptly named Old Freak Street. They wait patiently to reunite with the rest of the furry family, so that they may fly back to the moon all together, and finally have the welcome-home cheese-party that they have been impatiently awaiting.
Featured image from Uncle Tapani
An experimental process of seeding a guerrilla garden and letting it take shape in our midst. These are some field notes and pictures taken as I go along on this journey.
by Ng Huiying, Woon Tien Wei & Tan Hang Chong
In 2017, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two foremost exporters of food to Qatar, imposed a food blockade on their neighbour. This food blockade led Qatar to fall back on imports from Iran and Turkey. The blockade had longer-term implications for Qatar; by June 1 2018, it had dedicated financial capital to boost its own food production.
Food blockades are not the sole threat to food security. While Singapore diversifies its food sources, the threat of impending food shortages in the region is real, as changing weather patterns, droughts, and monsoon, increase the unpredictability of harvests.
But we don’t have to look as far as Qatar just to imagine a food-secure Singapore. 1960s Singapore just after independence was fully self-sufficient in its food, with jobs on food production that employed residents here and provided fulfilling work.
Over nine percent of the Singaporean population worked on family farms in the early years of independence from the 1960s to 1980s. Their strong attitudes for the nation and independence provided important labour, motivation and energy that made food sufficiency possible. These family farms were the cornerstone of food security in a small vulnerable island state. Not only did they meet 50% of the nation’s vegetable needs and 30% of its fish needs, these small-scale farms were able to practise crop rotation, preserving soil fertility, and mixed farming with animals and food crops. Agricultural production increased despite land limitations, and food products were exported.
Understanding the multiple values that family farms brought to the health and stability of Singapore takes some digging, because this story is not well-told. Cynthia Chou’s in-depth research into the end of agriculture in Singapore, some of which we cite here, has a lot to offer us.
We are often led to place more weight on industrial plantations, based on simple comparisons of size. But the acres of small-scale family farms, with their high density, self-ownership, links to family cultivation, and intercropping practices, supported a vast number of social and ecological links, as well as self-employment, healthy communications, mental and physical activity in community with others.
By 1848, there were at least 378 acres of small-scale family-run vegetable farms clustered around the Braddell Road area. In comparison, by the early 1900s, the wealthy Chinese businessman Tan Kah Kee owned 500 acres of land in what is now the Yishun/Sembawang area for pineapple plantations and rubber, opening a pineapple factory in 1905.
In 1931, in spite of limited land, family farmers produced nearly self-sufficient quantities of vegetables for the population. They produced these for the market, existing alongside large capitalist plantations.
The vegetables grown included lettuce, cabbage, onions, parsley, celery, spinach, mint, cucumber, cowpeas, radish, loofah, lady’s finger, brinjal, french beans, bitter gourd, yam, bean, sweet potato, tapioca, groundnut and soya bean.
In March 2019, the Singapore Food Agency (Agri-Food Veterinary Authority at the time) announced plans to increase the production of nutritional needs again to 30% by 2030. In this opinion piece, we highlight the historical link between nutritional needs and social resilience, and the opportunities to connect these in the coming decade.
In particular, we highlight the opportunities presented by stacking multiple uses of land. We focus on the concept of establishing food forests on military land as a viable food security strategy in Singapore and examine one case example of the Green Circle Eco-Farm, as a ready-made future food forest, with proposed guidelines on developing it.
Defence agriculture as functional and innovative use of space
Defence agriculture, as we playfully term it, is not a new narrative in Singapore’s history. “Citizen soldiers who double up as farmers,” as David Boey writes, were already a thing in the 1970s. In 1974, then-Minister of Defence Dr Goh Keng Swee —who took charge of the Primary Production Department a decade after on 6 Jan 1984 — introduced pineapples into Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) camps. The prickly plants provided food, psychological sustenance, and physical defence. Boey, a former defence correspondent for The Straits Times, wrote that 6.5 hectares of military land was transformed into Singapore’s largest pineapple plantation with more than 102,000 Emas Merah and Sarawak pineapple suckers grown by these soldiers. This land has since been re-transformed; it is the land on which the present Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central now stands.
Defence agriculture in this example shows that defence places have been included in mixed use (defence & agriculture) approaches to defence land. We argue that such creative use is necessary in a ‘land-scarce’ Singapore.
Stacking multiple values of defence through agroforestry
As our land use policies move with the times, defence is moving into virtual defence, but also climate and environmental defence. Food forests provide, firstly, a landbank of cultivated soil ecosystems for edible food growing. A local food forest also serves as a place for jungle survival training. National Service Forces (NSFs) today go through jungle survival training, which includes a few key lessons: shelter-building, looking for water and food. Food lessons focus on animal-trapping, killing and preparation of food that is required prior to eating. The emphasis is on animals: pythons, chickens, fish. Edible plant identification and knowledge of use is not included. Yet one might easily notice that knowledge of fungi, edible plants, and medicinal herbs are essential to basic survival, especially as climate conditions change and the need to deploy soldiers across various terrain increases.
The idea of stacking multiple uses together also goes hand in hand with the functionality that a food forest provides.
Food forests hold vast differences from conventional industrial agricultural plots. Based on agroforestry principles, the acres of land productivity that can be expected from food forests includes multiple values that go beyond the singular value (product yield) of conventional plots. Cacao companies, such as US-based company Cholaca (cholaca.com) are looking towards regenerative cacao production, driven by evidence that cacao agroforestry systems have higher returns on labour compared to full-sun monocultures, and as they realise the future survival of the business depends on sustaining the ecosystems that support their producers’ cultivable land. The need for regenerative agriculture is reflected in the new mass of knowledge, technological systems, and new strategic business directions being produced around it and highlights the next step in resilient and sustainable agriculture for the planet.
Case study: Green Circle Eco-Farm
Green Circle Eco-Farm occupies a farm plot in the Lim Chu Kang area in northwest Singapore. Its land lease runs out in December 2021 and next plans for the land are commonly understood to involve the conversion to military land.
Green Circle Eco-Farm has cultivated its land’s biomass over almost 20 years since 1999. Over these 20 years, the build-up of soil structure, soil vitality (a healthy microbial ecosystem) and water retention capacity on its land holds valuable protective functions that can be easily damaged, and lost.
If plans to convert the farm into military land are to proceed, we would urge extra precaution by planners and land developers to ensure that the soil is not removed or damaged during the process, and to carefully consider plans for how the land and soil may be optimally used in the process.
More thought and consideration of national food security, and resilience–the ability to reassemble and regroup in the face of challenge–should be given to the use of scarce natural resources.
The Green Circle Eco-Farm holds further potential to be examined as a pilot site for a food forest within defence lands, and how this contributes to public value. And it poses a clear question for us to respond to: as generations ready to inherit the planet, what are we willing to defend of the precious things we have?
Editors’ note: This opinion piece was written in 2019. Since then, Evelyn has received a two year extension of the land lease until the end of 2021. She is currently writing another proposal to extend her lease beyond 2021 so that she can continue farming.
Huiying Ng likes spending time in nature, with critters, and on observing (and acting in) human social life. She is a geographer with a background in psychological research, with a love for synthesis, ideation and exploration. She writes and develops action research methodologies relevant to agroecological futures, and enjoys creating and working with people across disciplines. She is a research assistant on the SEANNET project in Southeast Asia, and posts some of her work on https://anomalousitch.tumblr.com/. You can also find her on cargocollective.com/huiyingng.
Tan Hang Chong has been an avid naturalist and outdoor enthusiast since his school days as a Scout for ten years. His interest in biodiversity conservation and environmental sustainability was deepened by his membership with the Nature Society (Singapore), volunteerism with environmental civil society organisations and overseas community service expeditions. As an environmental educator, Hang Chong is passionate about sharing how we can live more sustainably and more mindfully about the impacts of our daily choices and actions.
He has an interest in environmental justice, food inequalities and the links between sustainable and ethical food practices to human and planetary health.
Woon Tien Wei is an artist/curator based in Singapore. His work focuses on cultural policies, collectivity in art, social movements, community engagement, land contestation and urban legends. In his practice, he works with independent cultural and social space, Post-Museum. In addition to Post-Museum’s events and projects, they also curate, research and collaborate with a network of social actors and cultural workers. With Post-Museum, Woon worked on Bukit Brown Index (2014-), an ongoing project which indexes the land contestation case of Bukit Brown Cemetery. He lectures part-time at Lasalle College of the Arts in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Woon received his Doctorate in Creative Art in the Arts from Curtin University of Technology, Perth.
by Yuen Kei Lam
by Andrew Lim
by Denise Eng
by Christiane Büssgen
Day X in collective solitude during this global pandemic:
Being isolated on my own I have been thinking a lot about being alone,
the fine line between solitude and loneliness,
the power of both to pull you down or uplift you –
in all those weeks
I have been feeling both at the same time.
I love to be by myself,
NY can be, has been isolating in normal times –
I have fallen in love with the city more once I stopped feeling lonely and instead understood that
living in NY means being on my own a lot just like everyone else
surrounded by all the choices and opportunities the city offers.
Being alone is my independence, my balance to the many art events,
gallery openings and decadent dinner parties.
Just that now, there are no more choices.
With quarantine in effect,
I was excited to be working from my apartment for a change.
Grateful to have a routine, lucky for having a job
as opposed to many of my friends in the fashion and restaurant industry.
My silver bistro table at the
kitchen window is my favourite spot
to eat when I’m home– it is now
also my only place to have a meal.
Nevertheless, I soon came to realize that I wasn’t at ease at all,
my sleep pattern was a mess, my adrenaline high.
But, as we were rotating through the weeks, losing track of time,
I came to a point where I realized that I did not want the quarantine to end just yet –
I had found some weird kind of comfort in the daily monotony;
what initially was mentally challenging
evolved into methodical resilience.
Knowing that there is no ‘going back to Normal’
until late May the now seemed temporary, still unreal and therefore bearable.
With a reopening in sight,
I felt I had not used all this time efficiently,
I should have really accomplished something,
being more productive and creative; working on my book.
NY has taught me to embrace solo dining like no other place I have lived before,
sitting at a restaurant bar changed my view of experiencing a meal.
Ingredient-focused, small dishes, meant to be shared, are also perfect for eating alone.
I tend to go back to the same places; where the waiter knows my favorite wine,
chefs have become friends;
this is being a local in NYC.
It is those loose connections that make the city what it stands for, essential for the individual;
as a regular you become part of a family of strangers.
My silver bistro table at the kitchen window is my favourite spot to eat when I’m home
– it is now also my only place to have a meal.
Preparing food my way is what keeps me balanced in normal times
this daily moment to myself is always special,
it has become my routine over the past year to take a picture of my bowl of food
with my morning coffee or a glass of wine in the evening.
What was I going to do with all those pictures?
I had asked myself this question many times.
Other than a short-lived appearance on my IG stories,
my photo scroll would probably be longer than the NY marathon.
I did not see myself making a cookbook, there are no recipes,
I’m also not a photographer; so, what was my message?
It was Julien who had been following my ‘stories’ for a while
who wrote me on March 16th when the world was turning up-side down.
I would love to make a book of your pictures, he wrote.
He was fascinated by the constant repetition in my pictures.
The Silver Table, the bowl, ‘the personal and raw’, my signature.
What has evolved into a beautiful, creative exchange since then,
not knowing each other, him being isolated in Rotterdam, me in Brooklyn,
started on a random Monday I will never forget.
Just to remind myself that
this isn’t the purpose at all
I get back to my flow,
creating images that I eat.
My meals are my creative outlet where I focus on flavor,
color and texture that goes beyond making something nourishing and delicious;
the part of taking the picture from that moment is equally important to me.
It is often that I create a dish visually in my mind
with the ingredients I have or feel go well together that day, just like choosing my outfit.
While my cooking and preparation of food is very simple,
using mostly not much else other than olive oil, salt and pepper as condiments,
for me ingredients are components of colors and textures
that come into play with the flavors to create a dish.
Too many elements visually confuse me,
using only the minimum of ingredients is what gives me comfort,
making each one shine is what excites me.
This may sound like the opposite to comfort food in a common sense,
but it is the aesthetic process that is equally nurturing my mind.
During quarantine, as we are all cooking more than ever without much choice,
for most of us, preparing food has become a way to compensate for the stress and anxiety.
I did not try any of the recipes which soon became quarantine trends;
instead I focused on my routine to be more constant than ever:
my table, where I create and express myself every day,
the bowl, my companion, embracing my food.
At times the self-imposed constraint felt like an extension of lockdown in my own terms.
While most meals are little celebrations,
random or ordinary,
beautiful to me,
on some days pleasure is also pressure;
forcing myself to be creative, to come up with an interesting dish
to get the best picture,
losing the immediate, spontaneous approach.
Just to remind myself that this isn’t the purpose at all
I get back to my flow,
combining ingredients, creating images that I eat.
Changing my focus quietly, looking
at things from a new perspective that is uncomfortable and confusing
I try to find peace and joy
in this moment in history
where the world is weaving itself
together in a new way.
The times are racing – yesterday’s news feels old in an instant.
We all have changed, going through this crisis together, separately;
it still was a distant thought to return to the city that sure will be different;
just when things took another turn with the killing of George Floyd,
after weeks of silence people are taking over the streets,
united more than ever, showing up for each other in solidarity.
The air is charged with a new energy, NYC has transformed into a city of protesters
– the pandemic seems forgotten although we are still living in quarantine.
With NY and the rest of the world in a state of civil unrest
I took a break from posting my food pictures on social media.
While I kept my usual routine of taking the picture for the book I noticed a change in myself:
After being alone for all this time but virtually sharing every meal
I suddenly was more relaxed, simply enjoying my meal.
Changing my focus quietly,
looking at things from a new perspective that is uncomfortable and confusing
I try to find peace and joy in this moment in history
where the world is weaving itself together in a new way.
Dedicated to this time in NYC,
my images are a collection of moments, meant to inspire, to see beauty in my very personal way.
(First published on thispandemicthing.com, curated by Christiane Büssgen and Stas Ginzburg, sharing creative stories from the times during pandemic; all images author’s own).
Christiane Büssgen is a designer based in Brooklyn, NY, working as a manager for Property, a high end furniture showroom in Tribeca. Originally from Germany she has lived in several countries before moving to NYC in 2016. She is currently working on her first publication The Silver Table Book with Julien Baiamonte, a graphic designer based in Rotterdam – a collaboration which started during the pandemic.
by Tang Hung Bun
Living soil is a miracle. More than 90% of our food comes directly or indirectly from soil. Plants absorb sunlight, atmospheric CO2 and water to make glucose, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere at the same time. Through a myriad of chemical reactions, the glucose is then synthesised to a wide variety of carbon compounds, including carbohydrates (such as cellulose and starch), proteins, organic acids and oils as the plants grow. Some of these carbon compounds are sent down to the plant roots and secreted into the soil to nurture the soil microbes (bacteria and fungi). These microbes are then eaten by bigger soil organisms like nematodes and protozoa, which are in turn fed on by even bigger organisms, and so on.
There are also soil organisms which decompose manure, dead plant and animal matter, releasing plant-available nutrients into the soil.
Some microbes, such as rhizobial and free-living bacteria, fix atmospheric nitrogen and convert it to a form that plants can absorb. Some microbes mine mineral nutrients from rocks. One such group of “mining” microorganisms is called mycorrhizal fungi. They form special symbiotic relationships with plant roots. They connect with plant roots to provide access to the freshly-released mineral nutrients. In return, the plant roots provide the fungi with tasty, energy-rich carbohydrates that the fungi use for growth.
Through such biological activities of a wide range of soil organisms, energy, nutrients and minerals are cycled through the soil food web, nourishing the soil for healthy plant growth.
Humus is the dark brown, sweet smelling substance that drives healthy, productive soils. It has many unique and remarkable properties essential for healthy plant growth. Humus improves soil tilth, porosity, water holding capacity and infiltration rate. Biomolecules of humus can help retain ionized nutrients that are produced by the natural cycling of organic biomass and compost and make them more readily available for plants.
Humus is formed through a multitude of complex biological processes. The soil organic matter such as root exudates and dead organic matter is first decomposed, ingested, partly assimilated and partly excreted. After rounds of ingestion and excretion, a fraction of the organic matter cannot be decomposed further and gets transformed by a process called humification into highly complex, large carbon polymers, made up mainly of carbon (60%) and nitrogen (6-8%). Together with soil minerals and soil aggregates, it forms an inseparable part of the soil matrix that can remain intact for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years. At this stage, humus has been formed in soil, and carbon has been successfully sequestered from the atmosphere (where it causes climate change problems) into stable soil organic carbon, which improves soil and promotes healthy plant growth (a solution).
The French government’s 4 per 1000 Initiative, if adopted and implemented on a large scale by the countries across the globe, has the power to cool the planet and feed the world without using risky and expensive technologies.
Too much carbon in the air is a problem. Carbon in the soil is a solution.
Atmospheric CO2 concentration has reached 410 ppm as of mid-2018. To avoid dangerous climate change, it needs to be reduced to below 350 ppm. Reducing carbon emissions, even if done rapidly, is not going to be enough. There is already too much CO2 in the air and we must take the excess carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in soil, where it belongs (Carbon Sequestration). Too much carbon in the air is a problem. Carbon in the soil is a solution.
The French government recognizes that regenerative agriculture is a safe, economic and socially acceptable way to effectively sequester carbon. Their solid scientific documentation shows that an annual growth rate of 0.4% in soil carbon through agricultural carbon sequestration would halt the increase of atmospheric CO2 related to human activities. They launched the 4 per 1000 Initiative at COP 21 and are calling on all countries to join them to transition towards a productive, highly resilient agriculture for food security and climate change.
I see Singapore’s potential in participating in this global effort of carbon sequestration. There are many empty green spaces all around Singapore, probably categorized as “Reserve sites”, which refer to areas where the specific use has not been determined. Some of these spaces can be converted to small farms where food is grown in a regenerative manner, sequestering carbon, integrating urban ecology, food production and urban lifestyle. Innovative land-use policies can be created to allow interested groups to convert some of the vacant green spaces into biodiverse organic farms.
I have some experience gained from working on a few lawns in different places in Singapore, attempting to establish food gardens. The soil underneath the lawns are usually very poor red/yellow clay soil, with very little organic matter. There may even be rocks and broken bricks. It’s been very challenging, and therefore fun, to convert these badly damaged soils to more fertile soils in which to grow edible plants. Although the science behind soil improvement, humification is very complex, our approach can be surprisingly simple. We just need to pay attention to a few simple principles, such as
* The richer the biodiversity, the better nutrients cycle. This is how the soil gets its fertility.
* Law of Return – all organic waste must be returned to the soil, so that nutrients and materials can be recycled through biological processes.
* The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.
I see the land scarcity of Singapore as an advantage in developing small natural farms all around Singapore. These farms would be near to where people live, bringing people closer to the source of food. Living in close proximity to a farm makes it easier to have access to fresh local food and allows people to see production in action. Food scraps can be returned conveniently to the farm for composting, achieving the goal of “Farm to table and back to farm”.
Tang Hung Bun has been advocating French government’s 4/1000 Initiative that promotes regenerative agricultural practices to increase soil organic carbon in order to reverse climate change. Mr. Tang has been practising natural farming for over 6 years in various places in Singapore. He has visited many farms of different types (organic, natural and conventional) and sizes in Taiwan and Hong Kong and has learned from their strengths and weaknesses. He hopes to establish a successful small natural farm in Singapore to influence people to join the global movement of responsible, regenerative farming. Mr. Tang advocates that soil can save us from climate crisis, but we need to save it first. Most of Singapore’s soils have been or are being destroyed. He hopes to see more people take action in saving Singapore’s soils.