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  • Bali received around 8 million visitors each year as of 2012.

  • By 2014 the island expects to host 10 million visitors a year.

  • Bali is the gateway island for most visitors to Indonesia and the majority never go elsewhere.

  • Bali is a mere two and a half hour flight from Australia.

  • Bali is very safe. Comfortable amenities and lifestyles that have become prohibitively expensive in developed nations are offered here at substantially lower prices.

  • The last fifteen years have seen rampant hotel and villa development as a response to growing number of tourists and ex-pats.

  • Ex-pat immigration has created a real estate and building boom. Many build private homes with pools in the middle of a working agricultural landscape (sawah).

Tourist beach in the South


One of many hopeful taxi drivers in Ubud

  • The tourist industry has created a new middle class with new Western values that often conflict with those of traditional society. 

  • For families whose only asset is their inherited land, the lure of selling it for a large sum of money is great.

  • Costs associated with farming have increased due to a dependency on chemical products and the related equipment.

  • A farmer's land taxes increase each time a hotel/villa is built next to or near their sawah.

  • Land speculation from wealthy Balinese and money launderers from Jakarta has created a real estate bubble. The exorbitant prices and profits have formented a sense of entitlement and greed on a scale not seen previously. This greed supersedes thousands of years of a sacred relationship with the land and ignores the future of the indigenous culture.

  • Current land use legislation attempts to curtail development but fails to address the underlying reason why farmers are forced or encouraged to sell their land. Farming is not subsisidized or supported by the government and cannot compete with the economic gains offered in tourism. Further, the laws are usually not enforced due to corruption and bribery. ​


  • Bali has long been Asia's most productive rice growing region due to the meticulously managed subak and the rich mineral content of the water flowing from the island's volcanic mountains.

  • Water has long been a carefully protected resource that is democratically distributed among regions.

  • In 2015, water shortages are projected in the over-developed southern region.

  • Water use in hotels and villas far exceed usage by sawah and traditional homes.

  • This new demand has burdened the precise artificial ecosystem that the subak has created on the island and disrupted traditional resource management.

Resort pool overlooking the sawah


A farmer rinsing his chemical fertilizer equipment in the communal subak canal

  • Around 1970, Indonesia mandated the use of packaged chemical products and hybrid short-grain white rice seeds developed during the Green Revolution to increase yield and curb food shortages.

  • The use of chemicals in agriculture has compromised water quality, led to the loss of offshore coral habitats and fish populations, and harmed or killed off many other animal species.

  • Hotel and villa development have fragmented farming regions, the canals of the subak and natural habitats.

  • Lack of necessary infrastructure impedes waste management and leaves the island overburdened with trash and sewage.

  • A sense of place is on its way to being destroyed.


  • Rice cultivation and harvest are gifts given to the Balinese by Dewi Sri, the Goddess of Rice. Water, a gift from the Goddess of the Lake, is the singular most important aspect of Balinese prayer, ritual and life. Though Balinese culture has remained remarkably intact through colonialism, occupation and globalization, the new threats posed to agriculture could finally dismantle a fundamental of Balinese identity.

  • Chemicals used in agriculture have increased the rate of cancers among the population.

  • The Balinese eat massive quantities of a hybrid white rice that lacks nutritional content and fiber and has a high glucose index, creating a paradox of nutritional starvation and diabetes.

Dewi Sri, the Goddess of Rice


The story of the tourist and the farmer is one of mutual need but fails to be one of mutual understanding.


Many tourists are drawn to Bali for its breathtaking landscape - the island is famous for the very unique terracing of the sawah (rice paddies). Rice cultivation has been prolific in Asia for thousands of years, but the Balinese paddies are especially extraordinary for niskala, what you do not see. Irrigation water is considered a gift granted to the people by the Goddess of Lake Batur, imbuing the sawah with special significance. The spiritual relationship between families and their land usually stretches back through generations, and special blessings and rituals are performed to give thanks and pray for a good harvest.


Sekala, what one does see in the sawah , is a finesse and exactitude that reflects farmers' careful planning and creates a startling, vivid and pleasurable composition. Before planting, when the paddy is flooded with water, the reflection of the sky and its elements create a moving picture. The subak, a democratically managed, 1000+ year old water canal system, distributes water according to agreements made within farming communities.

A newly planted rice paddy

An institution for development in the sawah

A lack of understanding between farmers and tourists has developed as Bali is being loved to death. Over 7 million tourists visit the island each year, and many decide to stay. Because the flight from Australia is a mere 2 ½ hours, many Australians have co-opted Bali as their own cheap paradise (much as Americans have done with Cancun over the past 35 years). As a luxury lifestyle in developed nations becomes prohibitively expensive, Bali offers safety and cappuccinos at a very nice price. Options for ex-pats include personal “villas” completely equipped with a housekeeper, cook, groundskeeper and pool, with breathtaking views of the sawah, all for a fraction of what it would cost in their own country.


In southeast Asia it is illegal for foreigners to purchase land or building in a different country. Therefore, byzantine monetary transactions have been created to circumvent this law. Ex-pats "partner" with Balinese, creating an imbalance of power as well as opportunities for extortion. Most ex-pats concentrate on these financial processes and fail to learn the very basics of the island culture or environment - many behave as though money is the only factor to consider in the creation of their dream house. This is globalization in its most blinding and destructive form. Plopping a villa down into a rice paddy completely alters the precise artificial ecosystem that the subak has created to sustain farms and use natural resources efficiently. In this way, foreigners reconfigure the landscape to suit their desires, gobbling up land and ignoring the native culture.

Bali derives its water from the crater of Lake Batur and rain. As the island's population has swelled beyond 4 million, water resources have been stretched and further amplified due to the over-development of the tourist industry. There is no doubt that increased tourism has provided jobs off the farms for the majority of Balinese, many who are willing to commute long distances for these jobs. Salaries are brought back to the family compound, allowing for a verifiable boost in HHI (household income). This income has led to increased accessibility to motorcycles (over 2 million now roam the island) and automobiles (gas is subsidized in Indonesia, as it is large oil producer). It has also provided, for the first time, the opportunity for a large percentage of a generation to go to college. To keep this economy in perspective, wage income for most in the service sector of the tourism industry is still only around $120/month.

Motorbikes in central Ubud

Cockfighting in Bali

The new middle class makes itself visible in its adoption of materialist values. However, increased incomes have not yet trickled down to the farmer, especially to the those who do not own the land. The further away a farming family lives from a tourist hub, the fewer family members are able to benefit from the economic boost. Also, as standard of living in Bali has risen, so has the cost of living and the availability of credit lines. On top of this Balinese spend more than half of their income on upacara (ceremonies) - though many Westerners are aghast at this use of funds, this is a Balinese cultural imperative. Combined with the still-popular gambling tradition in Bali, these factors do not bode well for the retention of assets.

Most farmers (except for the farmers in the Jatiluwih region and other small pockets) grow a nutrient-poor, high-glucose white hybrid rice for themselves and the majority of restaurants. It takes a lot of land to grow enough of this rice to feed a large family compound and supply enough rice for ceremonies. Surplus is sold not just as daily rice but for making the myriad of fried and unhealthy snacks and sweet cakes that are consumed throughout the day.


All of these forces have brought about rapid change in Balinese society. Aside from avoiding manual labor in the hot rice paddies, families are far more likely to raise their income by working in the tourist industry and inflated real estate prices have encouraged them to sell their land. Debts incurred from gambling, school tuition, expensive health care and the rising cost of living offer further incentive to cash in now. Legislation exists to prevent the development of this land, but the easy exchange of money among individuals and authorities allow for constant disregard for these laws. The federal government has supported uncontrolled growth in this area for financial gain, making Bali a "cash cow" for Indonesia. But will the tourists flock to this island after it resembles Miami Beach? Will the Balinese continue to welcome tourists after the fresh and potable water has become scarce? Will the government continue to sanction the development of farms and resort to importing cheap Chinese rice?


The farmer has not really received an increase in HHI due to tourism, yet the tourists continue to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

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