While visiting the garden of a friend last week, we came upon the topic of community fruit orchards and the tragedy of the commons. In this case, unlike the usual parable (popularised by Hardin), it wasn’t an orchard that gradually became barren through the selfish acts of fruit-pickers, but a grove of trees that slowly accumulated sweet fruit that rotted from neglect–because no one dared to pick the fruit.
This was lamented at some length by our friend, P, who said, “The breadfruit trees near my house are always bearing fruit, but no one picks them, and when I tried to, I was told by a passer-by, ‘you can’t pick it!'”
Singapore is home to many trees–just how many is a question for the public, but not one the National Parks Board is alien to. Each tree is an administrative unit governed by the NParks. While heritage trees are marked out on OneMap.sg, the location of each tree isn’t considered public data–though it’s hard to tell if this is simply due to the extensive nature of the database or high security protocols (around trees). Who knows?
During our conversation, different people spoke about the consequences of planting trees on the walkways outside your home, which are legally public property:
- Warnings are given by visiting authorities.
- Not all officials seem to mind. Anecdotes were shared of rogue trees growing peaceably in certain wards.
- After a few warnings, the tree is cut down.
The felling of trees seems relatively harmless in Singapore; no one really gets injured. This takes on quite a different tone in countries where trees and crops are an important source of income and food for people (also see this).
In Singapore’s context, it’s baffling and slightly ironic to think how good fruit is simply going to waste.
Having people look after existing fruit trees also provides a service to the community (so we don’t slip on rotting fruit, and fruits don’t fall on parked cars or passersby). Looking back in history, the government of Singapore planted fruit trees in abundance (while legislating fines to make sure people didn’t uproot or deface the trees) until realising that fallen fruits were rotting, with insufficient manpower to pick them (see Nature Contained for more on Singapore’s greening policies).
Yet, as someone pointed out when we continued our conversation later in the week, some interesting initiatives have been initiated, by a range of actors, to do more with the fruit of our soil:
- With the dry spell in 2009 (the same one that caused sakura blooms all over the island, for those who remember) NParks held their first charity give-away of mangoes picked from the roadside trees of Tampines.
- Community gardens have initiated fruit tree harvests in the areas surrounding their gardens
- Individuals are considering the possibility of starting neighbourhood community fruit harvests, or of beginning plots of fruit orchards on the grounds of private charities.
- We most definitely aren’t the first to think of this! These concerns have been raised over the years (as in this recent discussion organised by SMU). The only thing different now is: we definitely know there are communities of people interested, and we aim to spread this circle as wide as possible.
There are plenty of new ideas we can work with. I’ll leave you with an inspiring piece on fruit foragers, maps and biking trails in Germany–one for cyclists, health and map nuts!