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  • Though Bali has retained its cultural and spiritual heritage through a long history of occupation, colonization and globalization, escalating numbers of tourists on this island as well as a growing disparity between the tourist industry and other sectors have finally begun to place a strain on traditional values.

  • Foreign investment in land has created a real estate bubble that currently allows families to sell their ancestral farmland for exorbitant profits. Due to this, ethical challenges have risen as people change the way they think. Personal gain over community good.

  • Hotel and villa development is overtaking agriculture in some more developed areas and is the number one cause of water shortages predicted as early as 2015.

Rendering of a new development in Bali's sawah


Farms saved by a land trust in Vermont, USA

  • Sawah Bali will introduce the successful American conservation tool of placing permanent restrictions on land use.

  • Though the land can be sold or leased, development is prohibited on the property in perpetuity. In return, the farmers are compensated.

  • To provide greater income, the farmers are assisted in restructuring how and what they grow.

  • Opportunity for further economic development lies in creating value-added products from surplus crops.

  • Technical assistance is offered at each stage and sustained through generations.

  • The conserved farms will be monitored by Sawah Bali. Stewardship of the land grows out of cooperation from the subak, banjars, and Sawah Bali.


  • Our team will be composed of educated Indonesians committed to the future of their island.

  • We will coordinate strategic partnerships and alliances based on overlapping objectives that will strengthen our plan of implementation.

  • We are launching a pilot project in a single subak that will put our theory into practice and create atemplate for future projects. We hope to demonstrate early success while also learning how to implement land conservation on an island lacking the enabling legislation and plagued by widespread corruption, but with an emerging political will for change. The pilot project will serve as a platform for developing flexible solutions to these challenges.

  • The pilot project will initially be funded by individuals who believe in preserving the culture and landscape of this unique island and also by Indonesian and foreign corporations who have a vested interest in tourism.

  • As the pilot project gains traction with the farmers and people of Bali, activism and sustained support for the work of conservation must be demonstrated to the government of Bali so that restricted funds (potentially drawn from the tourism industry) are committed to this work. Our work can only continue if government funds are scheduled to be granted annually.

  • At that juncture, we will have devised a scientific methodology for rating threatened sawah to continue the work. The system will also take into account regional economics.

Rice paddies in Jatiluwih - UNESCO World Heritage Site

A protest piece by activist and artist Pande Putu


An agrarian society, Bali is rooted deeply in animist and Hindu beliefs. While many developing nations find themselves inundated by globalization and tourism, Bali has withstood many common negative impacts over the past 80 years due to the strong spiritual identity, credo and daily practiced rituals of its people. However, as the escalating numbers of tourists flocking to this island with “cultural authenticity” it places a heavier burden on the island, the population now finds themselves at a crossroads. Bali is at risk of being unable to withstand the ecological devastation that accompanies rampant tourism. Due to the construction and demands of luxury hotels and resorts, water resources are being stretched beyond capacity. It is estimated that by 2015 there will be severe water shortages in the more over developed tourist regions of the south.


Further, the rapid expansion of development has taken a toll on the agricultural sector. Where only 30 years ago agriculture was the primary source of income and employment, tourism is now the biggest earner. Though 98% of Balinese families still farm, 78% earn most of their income in other sectors - namely, tourism-based services. As income disparity grows between the two sectors, many Balinese have decided to sell their family land, taking it out of production indefinitely. Greed has descended as there is a finite amount of land that can be developed; and that land is the sawah, not the mountains.


Generally, interest in real estate comes both from Westerners looking to build a cheap dream getaway and from Indonesians investing in the real estate market. Money laundering from Jakarta has contributed to the current real estate bubble in which agricultural land is being bought and sold at highly inflated prices. Aggressive real estate agencies are pressuring farmers to sell their land. This recent phenomenon poses threats to the landscape, food security, water resources, economic parity for farmers, and even to the tourist industry which relies on Bali's natural beauty.



To keep the sawah from being sold for development, Sawah Bali will apply the model of the American land trust. Each farmer will be paid a sum of money not to develop their land, in perpetuity . In return the farmer agrees to a legal restriction or covenant that will be tied to the land; even if the farmer sells their property, the new owner may not develop or sell for development. The farmer(s) retains full ownership of the agricultural land and may continue to farm and pass the land down to their heirs.

However, years of experience with this model in America have indicated that preserving the land is not enough. The old models of agriculture in both American and Bali no longer generate enough income to sustain a family. The reasons differ in each country, but the result is the same – a necessity to restructure the agricultural model. Sawah Bali intends to increase farmers’ income by supporting a return to traditional organic methods and heritage rices as well as creating value-added products and new markets for farmers.

A successful goat farm in Vermont, USA

The Blue Ledge goat farm is family owned and operated

The family creates a wide range of profitable products

In Bali, existing land use laws attempt to restrict the development of the sawah but fails to address the underlying issue of economic inequality: the legislation dictates use, but does not provide financial incentive or support to farmers. As families working in the tourism sector are propelled into the middle class and adopt new lifestyles, farmers are left behind. Education, health care, and better housing eludes them due to the gross income disparity between the sectors. Further, attempts to offer support to farmers have generally been ill-advised or short-lived.


Sawah Bali recognizes these issues. With the help of our partners, we will provide technical assistance to aid in the transition to organic methods and more profitable crops. As problems arise, we intend to work cooperatively with farmers to solve them. Our model of technical assistance will be highly collaborative and span over coming decades in order to ensure success. Project participants will also have access to the small pockets of farmers in Bali who have already retrofitted their agriculture to organic methods and realized higher incomes as as a result. In order to encourage participation and demonstrate the potential of this trajectory, we will establish mentor relationships between these groups.

Farmland saved by a land trust in Vermont, USA



Three years ago, a program was created in Bali to provide free compost to farmers and encourage a return to organic methods. However, some farmers attest that the volume of compost received is inadequate and must be supplemented with chemical fertilizer. Sawah Bali intends to provide education and assistance to ensure 100% organic methods – for example, helping farmers set up their own compost systems. Not only will this transition allow farmers to charge more for their product, but it will address the high incidence of cancers among farmers attributed to chemical exposure. In addition, the project will facilitate a return to black, red and white heritage rices that are far more nutritious and now more profitable than the modified hybrid strains introduced during the Green Revolution in the 1970s.

Making compost at Sar Organik's farm in Ubud

Black gold

Organic cabbage grown for Sari Organik's restaurant



The ideal of “mutual assistance” or “working together” is a time-honored tradition in Balinese society. The island is organized into subaks - 1000+ year old irrigation cooperatives that are democratically managed and recognized by UNESCO as entirely unique water supply systems. The sawah and the subak are intertwined and cooperation within these organizations has historically helped farmers to maximize resource efficiency and effectively manage pests and other problems.


In addition to these organizations, banjar (village leadership) provides the structure for Balinese society. This traditional authority handles local issues transparently and favors an inclusive process for finding solutions. The banjar negotiate new opportunities as a cooperative, creating a contiguousness across the sawah that further supports effective resource management. Sawah Bali hopes to build on the strength of these existing structures of community co-development.

Working together during a communal cremation ceremony

Working together to build a home

Working together during a rice harvest



If the unique aesthetic and culture of the sawah is destroyed, tourism in Bali will likely decline. In recognition of the reciprocity between tourism and Bali's cultural heritage, Sawah Bali will work with UNESCO's World Heritage Sites program. In 2012, UNESCO recognized the subak as an efficient and democratically managed water system that enables Bali to be the most productive rice producing island in the archipelago. Since, UNESCO has invited Sawah Bali to join the Focused Development Group for Bali's Cultural Heritage, which is charged with creating and implementing mechanisms to protect the sites. Together we will develop an eco-tourism program in which tourists will be invited to stay in family compounds and learn about agriculture, as well as the introduction of volunteer field laborers through programs such as WOOF. It has also been demonstrated that tourists and ex-pats in Bali provide a demand for high quality organic food products and will support premium prices. Sawah Bali will devise a chain of supply for farmers of organic products or value-added products by partnering with restaurants, stores, farmers’ markets and existing social entrepreneurs.

Nasi Campur with organic red rice served at Casa Luna

Sari Organik sells a variety of fresh products at their store

Fresh tofu and vegetables served at Sari Organik



  • Exterior forces: Land use laws in Asia prohibit foreigners from purchasing land or property, creating lucrative opporunities for Balinese to “partner” with interested parties. Indonesian and Balinese "lease" the land to foreigners for the erection of hotels or villas. In addition, money laundering from Jakarta has created a real estate bubble: investors force up real estate prices by sinking exorbitant amonts of money into properties - without being tied to something like a land deed, laundered money is traceable and a red flag to illegal activities.

  • Interior forces: Gambling and cockfighting is still prevalent in Balinese culture, creating debts in many families. Compounded with other financial pressures such as health care emergencies and the costs of upacara (religious ceremonies), these debts force many to sell their only asset, ancestral agricultural lands.


  • Institutional failing: Current land use policies fail to be enforced, often due to deals cut with government or local administrators that allow for the illegal sale and development of the sawah (there is overt and widespread corruption in Indonesia).



As the Balinese receive payments/annuities to conserve their sawah, Sawah Bali will provide fiscal management, financial advise and education to foster better economic stability. Prior to receiving their first payment, bank accounts will be set up in the present owners' names. Many of the farmers are illiterate and uneducated, as is the situation in most of the world. Cultural sensitivity is paramount to Sawah Bali and though we will not make these services mandatory, we do want to provide advice on a voluntary basis.



A yayasan (foundation) is being formed here in Bali, as there is no enabling legislation to allow a “trust”. This will not hamper our land conservation, and we will adhere to all rules and regulations in Indonesia. Foremost, Yayasan Konservasi Sawah Bali will be wholly owned, managed and run by Balinese and Indonesians. The Board of Directors will be international, as will our Advisors. Founder Phiphi Kaplan will step down as the interim executive director as soon as all phases of the mission have been shown to be successfully implemented by the staff. Sawah Bali will have partnerships with Balinese, Indonesian and American NGOs, educational institutions, government affiliations and social entrepreneurs.


The objective is for the project to be funded by the government with other income derived from grant-writing, foundations, corporations and individuals. As a start-up, we are in the midst of launching our pilot project in order to demonstrate early success. Our intention is to garner Balinese support for land conservation by creating a grassroots activist base. With additional support from our academic partners and political allies, the legislative and governmental powers should come forth with funding. At each project juncture, funds will be set aside in an endowment for the ongoing work of the Yayasan. This work entails monitoring of the conserved sawahand sustained support for farmers.


It is the opinion of this Yayasan that, if there is no substantial financial support from the government of Bali and/or Indonesia or the corporations that benefit from the tourism sector, this important work cannot be implemented. Over the past 40 years, family farms in Vermont were saved by the combination of legislative change, reduced taxation for working farms, and government funding at both the state and national level. The U.S. government did not want to lose its legacy, its beauty and most importantly, its family farms. Now, Vermont's working landscape is healthier than ever, despite being less than 200 miles from New York City. Our intention is for Bali's story of land conservation to flow like the waters in the subak and gain strength as the forces of momentum take hold.

Made and Dedik presenting the project at a banjar meeting

Village leaders make decisions communally

Remembering to work together!

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