The Straits Times: Let’s talk, SLA tells farmers using patch of state land

The Singapore Land Authority has offered Clementi residents an opportunity to discuss the future of the community garden that they recently requested to have them clear out of. The Straits Times reports.

Let’s talk, SLA tells farmers using patch of state land

It is giving those told to vacate state land a chance to discuss issue

The group of residents who have been farming on a patch of state land in Clementi Avenue 4 may now get a little breathing room.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which last week issued an eviction notice on the illegal vegetable garden, is now asking these farmers to come forward to discuss the issue.

If they fail to do this by March 20, their vegetable patches, the sheds and other structures there will be cleared.

An SLA spokesman said it has no choice but to do this, because public health and safety issues – from mosquitoes and air pollution from the burning of leaves on the site – have been raised.

So far, three families have identified themselves.

Meanwhile, Ms Sim Ann, the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Member of Parliament overseeing the area, has offered to mediate.

Yesterday, she showed reporters round the 1,800 sq m of vegetable patches, pointing out potential mosquito breeding grounds and imploring the farmers to step forward.

‘If they don’t do so, it’ll be quite hard for us to represent their views,’ she said.

The SLA, which has no immediate plans for that tract of state land, also wants to hear from the area’s grassroots groups on whether parts of the land can be used in the interim for the enjoyment of the residents.

‘If the grassroots organisations require more time to discuss this with residents, the SLA is prepared to consider,’ an SLA spokesman said.

The SLA said it oversees 270 community-use sites islandwide, though none of these is used for farms or gardens.

The Clementi case is one of the first high-profile run-ins between a government agency and illegal farmers in almost a decade; the last known case was of a farm in Neo Tiew which was told to go.

The Clementi patchwork of farms, sitting on land almost two football fields in length, is bounded by a portion of the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu railway line, the Sungei Ulu Pandan canal, Clementi Avenue 4 and Clementi Avenue 6.

A week ago, the SLA posted a letter on sheds and other structures there, asking the users to dismantle them by March 20 or face enforcement action. No invitation to discuss the issue was offered then.

On Tuesday, the SLA said that, aside from asking the farmers to come forward by March 20, it would give them ‘a reasonable period of time’ to dismantle and remove the structures and other items.

Its spokesman did not elaborate.

The area has been cultivated by various residents for some 30 years. Most of the 20 or so farmers are not in it for profit, but just for the exercise and the fruits of their labour, which include jackfruit, chilli and sweet potato.

But some residents have complained of smoke from the leaves that are burned regularly on site.

Kindergarten teacher Ng Ang Mui, 48, who lives in Block 305, said her two children have asthma and her mother was having problems breathing.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Ms Sim said public health was her priority: ‘Let’s just settle the public-health concerns first – and that really concerns everyone, not just the residents nearby but also the people using this piece of land. The rest, we’ll have to figure it out along the way.’

Mr Lester Yeong, 35, whose retired father farms a patch on the site, has offered to speak for the farmers. He and others have proposed to the SLA that farming be allowed to carry on until plans are made for the land, and that the farmers pay a nominal fee for a temporary occupancy permit.

His father’s vegetable patch is fenced up, but he said he would not mind opening up the garden to public access.

Meanwhile, members of the public have written in to The Straits Times, some opposed to the farming and others backing it for the ‘charm’ it gives the neighbourhood.

Retiree Lee Ter Kiah, 70, said the ‘dirty and unsightly’ farms should make way for a park where people can take strolls.

Clementi resident Lin Shuli, a 22-year-old sociology undergraduate who is studying the farmers for a term paper on ageing, said: ‘I understand the farmers have occupied the land illegally, but I urge the authorities to consider preserving this community – and even help the elderly to build on their hobby.’

They could, for example, make compost instead of burning vegetable matter, she said, adding: ‘These plots of land are what give them a sense of purpose in their silver years.’

Image taken from Jasmine&Roses

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