Preserving a unique slice of Singapore's rural life

Above: The Kranji area is home to historical landmarks such as the first landing sites of the Japanese during World War II, like this one. Left: Thow Kwang Industry spreads awareness about pottery and the art of wood firing through educational tours
Thow Kwang Industry spreads awareness about pottery and the art of wood firing through educational tours and workshops. It is also home to one of the last surviving dragon kilns, used for firing ceramics, in Singapore.PHOTO: THOW KWANG INDUSTRY
Above: The Kranji area is home to historical landmarks such as the first landing sites of the Japanese during World War II, like this one. Left: Thow Kwang Industry spreads awareness about pottery and the art of wood firing through educational tours
The Kranji area is home to historical landmarks such as the first landing sites of the Japanese during World War II, like this one. PHOTO: BERTRAND CHAUVEL

New coffee table book features Kranji countryside's charm, history, farms and people

Visitors to Singapore's countryside are often charmed by its farms and nature areas, but not many may know that the Kranji area is also home to an old fire-breathing dragon.

The brick dragon kiln in the Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle - one of the enterprises under the Kranji Countryside Association (KCA) - dates back to the 1940s. But it is still used today by potters who favour the disappearing art of using wood-firing kilns instead of contemporary methods of heating with gas or electricity.

Ceramics made in such kilns usually look unique as they are engulfed in fire and the ashes react with the glaze to produce unpredictable colours and textures during the wood- firing process.

Thow Kwang Industry offers hands-on sessions and tours of the historical kiln, but it is now possible to learn more about it in a new book, The Kranji Countryside - Soul Of Singapore.

The coffee table book, featuring photographs taken by French photographer Bertrand Chauvel, was written by marketing communications professional Carolyn Ortega, who is in her 40s.

The book highlights various aspects of the Kranji countryside - its history and wilderness, the farms, and the people hoping this slice of rustic life can be preserved.

Farmland takes up about 1 per cent of Singapore's land. Close to 600ha has been allocated to over 200 farms - many of which are in Kranji - for the production of food and non-food items.

But the agricultural sector, though small, plays a strategic role in the nation's food security, supplying some 10 per cent of its food.

Said Ms Ortega, who wrote the book on her own time: "We wanted to show Singaporeans and tourists the many facets of Kranji. Singapore is small, yet it has its own farms; we hope that the gem of our countryside can be preserved."

Earlier this year, 62 farms in the Lim Chu Kang and Kranji areas were told by the Government that they would have to move out by the end of 2019, to make way for the Defence Ministry's new training grounds.

The deadline had initially been June next year, but the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) pushed it back 21/2 years to give farms more transit time.

Affected farmers will be able to bid for new farmland early next year, but exact details of the locations and new plot sizes have yet to be announced. The first tranche of land sales will be launched next year, AVA said last month.

KCA president Kenny Eng said the book is a photographic journey through Kranji, past and present, with its rich heritage and diversity. "The countryside is a unique ecosystem of mostly family-run farms... existing alongside natural conservation areas, poignant cemeteries and our defence forces. There is nowhere in the world a countryside is so small yet so rich. This book will be the only consolidated testament we have if it is removed."

•The Kranji Countryside - Soul Of Singapore is priced at $30 and can be bought at Bollywood Veggies, Jurong Frog Farm, Hay Dairies, Nyee Phoe Gardenasia and at Uncle William's shop at Farmart.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline 'Preserving a unique slice of Singapore's rural life'. Print Edition | Subscribe