TL;DR – Something’s gotta give.
The rising tide of progress raises many boats. But it also claims its fair share of victims. While Singapore’s economic progress has greatly improved the livelihoods of most Singaporeans, it does come with costs. One of the sacrifices that we have placed upon the altar of progress is a huge chunk of our historical heritage. Kampongs had to make space for modern housing estates. Quaint neighbourhoods will have to make way for newer residential areas.
And so it is, that very soon we may see many of the last remaining traditional land-based farms end their operations.
A total of 62 farmers in Lim Chu Kang will have to move when their leases expire between 2017 and 2021. Their lease will not be renewed as SAF needs that land for its army training grounds. The farmers have not been told where they would move and the size of the new plots. Also, instead of having leases of 20 years, the farmers would have to put up with leases of only 10 years, with the possibility of extending for another decade, but only if the land isn’t needed for something else. Given these uncertainties, some farmers are not sure if it makes sense to move or simply call it a day.
One of the farms that is affected is the Jurong Frog Farm. It was started in 1980 by Mr Wan Bock Thiew. It is now run by his youngest daughter, Ms Chelsea Wan, also affectionately known as the frog princess. Ms Wan has a passion for educating the public about the importance of the farming industry in Singapore. But because of the uncertainty of land lease she now faces a difficult decision of whether she should scale down the business, stop the farming business and focus only on frog trading.
The story of Ms Wan and the Jurong Frog Farm was the subject of an episode of Mediacorp’s On the Red Dot series. A trailer of that episode that was put up on Facebook:
Very poignant video, isn’t it?
Ms Wan’s story exemplifies the strong community spirit of a bygone era. One where people in the community knew one another well, and would willingly pitch in to help one another whenever and however they could. It is indeed sad that such a community will be gone soon.
Sure enough, this sentiment is shared by many on Facebook. Many have lamented the destruction of heritage and the pervasiveness of the concrete jungle choking out everything that is interesting in Singapore. Many questioned whether there was really a need for more training grounds for the SAF. After all, the SAF doesn’t really fight wars, right? At most, it takes part in a few disaster relief missions here and there, now and then. What’s the likelihood that we will go to war and the SAF’s war-fighting capability is put to test? Very low, right?
It is true that the SAF has never fought a real war. It may appear that the SAF may never have to fight a real war. So do we really need to clear land to let SAF have training grounds?
The SAF’s most important mission is to convince all of our potential aggressors that they should never even consider waging a war with us.
To succeed in that mission, all our potential aggressors have to be absolutely convinced that we have the wherewithal and conviction to beat them into pulp if we feel sufficiently threatened. To do this, we need to put in sufficient resources to build up a convincing SAF. For a better explanation of why we do need a convincing SAF, read this compelling speech by someone who’s actually with the force.
We do not have infinite resources at our disposal. Using resources (whether land, money, or manpower) on military defence necessarily means that we have less resources for other things. The main business of the government is to balance the (seemingly infinite) competing demands on the finite resources we have in the most efficient and effective manner.
In this instance, the government has decided that the balance should tip in favour of defence. So land for farming has to be given up to make space for military training grounds. Have they gotten the balance right? We don’t know for sure. We don’t attend Cabinet Meetings (clearly…) and thus aren’t privy to all data, analyses, and discussions that led to this decision. But should we trust that the government got it right?
In this instance, we think so. Why?
The land that SAF is taking over isn’t actually for additional training area. It is to replace the area that SAF is giving up to make space for the Tengah New Town. This new town will be integrated with the Jurong Innovation District, which is envisioned as the industrial park of the future. So SAF is taking over the farm land in Lim Chu Kang just so that it would have the same amount of training space that it currently has.
A case could be made that perhaps the SAF could do with less training space. But the same case can be made about farming. Already some farmers are adopting high-tech and high-yield methods to grow more crops on a smaller plot of land. In other words, the adverse effect of having less land for farming could be mitigated. Even if couldn’t, we would have to import slightly more of our food supply (less than 10%). That is a consequence that we can handle relatively simply.
What would the negative consequence be if we got our defence policies wrong, and didn’t give enough resources to our defence? Then we face the real possibility of having our sovereignty threatened, or worse, taken away. What we cannot defend, we do not own. Crimea ought to have taught us a very important lesson in the need to have a convincing defence force.
Therefore, on balance, given that we are likely able to mitigate the adverse effects of having less land for farming, and the potentially more devastating cost of not providing sufficient resources to build a convincing defence force, we are convinced that the government is right in moving the farms.
(Featured image via Makingmum.blogpost.com)