WRITER:  Pang, Yiu Kai  (彭耀階)  HONG KONG

June, 2017.

The Naming of Zero Impact

The first thing to ponder is naming. Intuitively “Zero Impact Farming” should be the proper name, for it stresses farming without the least impact to Nature. But a quick witted arguer will at once retort that even you only insert a small piece of seedling, you have to dig a small hole, take away the mud inside together with the grass attached to it, isn’t this an impact no matter how slight it is? What then if we re-coin the name as “minimal impact farming”? This should be the most appropriate term that although the practice’s impact to Nature is not absolutely zero, it’s the minimum we can have among all types of farming we can think of. However, if you are not a shrewd social activist keen on absorbing the lessons from failure, you would not have the idea that the concept you want to spread to the public may not be the same what the public receives. The drawback of the term "minimal impact farming" is that the public cannot get a rough idea what it is from the name alone, they usually mix them up with Natural Farming(please see the urgent need section), therefore this is still not the best term to be used.


Again, we may question is it necessary to avoid the impact to Nature up to such a strict sense that we even cannot dig a tiny hole nor pluck out a tiny bundle of grass? Bear in mind that lots of animals are doing just that everyday, if the amount of what humans do is far less than those done by wild animals, then it makes no difference to Nature whether we do that or not. In this broader sense, occasionally digging a few tiny holes and stepping on grass can still be taken as zero impact. An anology is what impact it has to the water surface when one jumps into water. If one jumps into a swimming pool without onyone swimming, the water surface must be very smooth, this jumping must create ripples on the water surface, effecting an impact to the water surface. This is analogues to impacting Nature in the absolute sense. But if one jumps into the sea with lots of boats rowing and people swimming around, the sea surface of course is not smooth, with lots of irregular ripples on the surface. This jumping simply cannot make any difference to the condition of the sea surface, therefore it can exert no impact to the water surface. Similarly, as lots of animals have been digging holes, eating grasses, stepping on grasses etc., your occasional getting into the jungle, cutting a little grass, stepping on it, and digging a few tiny holes on the ground, etc., can make no difference to Nature, and so such handling exerts no impact to Nature.


So long as we define Zero Impact to Nature in a practical sense, this kind of farming can achieve zero impact. When we employ this term, the information received by the public is clear and explicit enough even in the ears of the uninformed: Getting food from the wilderness without effecting any practical difference to her. For these uninformed, however, minimal impact farming may mean natural farming or agro-forestry, if they don’t know there’s another kind of farming which could even exert a less impact to Nature, so this isn’t the wisest term to be used.


The Definition of Zero Impact

If we don’t take zero impact up to an absolute sense, then we must define what’s zero impact and judge whether or not the definition is suitable. The kind, number and distribution of vegetation cover in a plot of wild land varies with time, look to be changing in a random fashion. The animals and micro-organisms that come with the vegetation cover also seem to be changing in a similar random way, though they are also related to the sort of plants growing there. If the changes are all random, we simply needn’t care about whether a fruit tree etc. planted in it has exerted an impact to the wilderness or not. But the fact is that, when one naturalist happens to come across a few isolated guava trees inside a wild forest, he would not doubt the guava trees have been growing naturally there, but if what he sees is a forest of guava, he will at once know the forest is not grown naturally there, it must be planted there by humans. A keen naturalist has an eye to discern things in the wild, they know the small plot of forest is not natural only because the growth pattern has violated the mechanism of ecological succession too overtly. In Hong Kong, a barren hill slope right after hill fire undergoes roughly 4 stages of succession. At first only grass and a few kinds of drought resistent ferns, such as false staghorn fern, can grow there. After two or more years the grass-fern vegetation cover makes the slope wetter, thicker in soil and richer in nutrient, thrubs or sometimes even a few stand alone pioneer trees can start to grow there, the most commonly seen stand alone species is wax tree. This is also the beginning of the second stage: shrub growth. In this stage, grass and false staghorn fern have receded, become far less common. The hill slope is dominated by thrubs, dominating species may be rose myrtle, common melastoma, etc., and even emblic myrobalan if the underlying rock structure is granitic. Ferns of oriental blechnum and cyclosorus etc. can grow under the shades of tall thrubs.


Again, after a few years, the thrub growth makes the hill slope soil even thicker, wetter, and richer, young pioneer trees of various species can take root on the slope, the third succession stage of young tree forest begins. Young tree canopies obstruct the thrubs’ sunlight, their roots extend to take hold of more underground soil, thrubs can no longer live happily there, they have to leave room for tree growth and  leave. But we must not think that: the trees which can take root there can live happily ever since, only a small percentage of them can be so, most other pioneer species will be eliminated later for a lot of factors, this is why they are classified as pioneer, that means they cannot last too long, most of them can only live through the young forest stage.


After some years, from ten plus year up to some tens of years, some tree species can grow up to their maximum height. During this years, non pioneer native species like incense tree, scarlet sterculia, tung oil tree etc. can also settle down on this hill slope gradually, making it more and more biodiverse, and making it support the livelihood of more and more animal, bird, insect, bug species. Up to this condition, we say that the ecological succession has entered into the fourth stage, also the final stage: mature to climax forest. In this stage, species number keep increasing, rare to endangered species may be found, the forest becomes more and more biodiverse until achieving climax.


What kind of plant growing in one place looks to happen by chance, but there’s still broad order governing what can be grown in a particular location. Besides soil and rock type, climate, surrounding living and non-living thing conditions as well as their activities all play a part, but natural succession is a decisive factor. Generally we may conclude it to be “Chance shaped by natural order and necessity”. It is this mechanisms that decides what is and will be growing in one particular location. So, to avoid impacting Nature while getting food in the wild, we are free to effect change so long as it is within the realm of chance, at the same time our work must abide by the natural order and necessities. Therefore, we should take natural succession as the basic most criteria for not impacting Nature. That is, we must not affect the succession process to any degree. The above should be the very principle, and what we still have to ponder is:  Is it possible to know if a plot of natural land's succession has been affected, as the chance factor also plays an important part in what’s growing there? The answer is:  If the violation is slight, it is difficult to find out, but if the violation is significant, it can be seen very easily. That means, when the impact to succession or to biodiversity advancement keeps enlarging, it can be found easily. The next question then is, if the impact is not discernible, would it harm the local ecosystem? The answer is, an impact which is indiscernible to an expert, it would not harm the local ecosystem also. On the other hand, apart from on site observation, we can also decide if an operation has effected a slight impact upon Nature through theoretical inference.

With this criterian, implanting a plant or fungal species back to it's natural habitat all according to it's growth pattern and not violating what it naturally should have in that habitat may be taken as a chance factor within the succession mechanism. The succession process in that particular habitat simply need not be taken as being affected by the implanting and also will not be affected in future.

The First Zero Impact Farming

Experimentation & Development In The World

Zero Impact Farming Experimental Zone, jointly held by Zero Impact Forest Farm (Formerly called Lotus Valley Ecoop Farm) and Yi O Farm. Located on Lantau Island, HK.,

Headed by Pang, Yiu Kai, writer of this article.


Smart Nature roamers are always bewildered that it is very difficult to see any food they usually buy from the market growing naturally in the wilderness, you can never see wild padi, wild wheat, wild potato etc.. Some may think this must be the result of human intervention, tasty edible plants and animals must have all been either cleared or caught by people, so little of them can still survive in the wild. This is partly true, but not the complete story. Another main reason a Nature lover do not know is that their favourite food’s natural habitat had largely been cleared long ago for farming, the remaining wilderness are not so suitable for them except some isolated smaller scale habitats, as they are broken down into smaller isolated ones by farmlands, towns, or other human establishments, which makes the plant and animal species unable to spread to the places suitable for their growth. So most isolated habitats all suffer from species deficiency. In Hong Kong, larger streams’ lower courses are usually suitable for natural banana growth, but we cannot see wild banana in Hong Kong, all that can be seen are planted by farmers.

What then is the evidence that these locations had wild bananas before Hong Kong was first inhabited? The answer is in Guangdong Province' nearly uninhabited deep mountains. The longest mountain there is the Lotus Mountain Range. It begins in Southern Fujian Province and extends south southwestward through the middle eastern part of Guangdong all the way down to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is situated in the southern most tip of the Lotus Mountain Range,--- the obsolete version of the Pacific Ring of Fire active in the Jurassic Period. In the section of the mountain range around 120 Km north northeast of Hong Kong, we can still find a hundred plus square kilometers of mostly uninhabited high mountains and deep valleys, it’s also there we can still find wild banana thickets growing along stream bank mudflats in deep mountain valleys. Hong Kong streams’ lower course mudflats in fact are more suitable locations as the latter has a warmer winter. So if Guangdong’s deep mountain valleys can have wild bananas, the more so should be the fertile stream bank mudflats in Hong Kong.


The above three points are enough to let us know, when our ancesters were first roving the furtile wilderness on this earth, they could gather food and hunt for animals fairly easily, they don’t have to suffer from daylong hard labour to get their daily meals, the present day human situation is only the result of wrong(yes, wrong!) civilizational development, the transition to land occupying farming is the culprit. The development has been wrong as we have already found solid evidences that the development has brought more suffering, poorer health to humans, as well as worsening natural environment. Although agriculture has a systems advantage in knowledge, craftsmanship, art development, at the same time it also has a systems disadvantage in humanist ultimate social values: brotherhood of man, equal right and liberty .