As hectare after hectare of productive farmland is lost to housing and hotels each year in Bali, one community is bucking the trend, making a promise to conserve their traditionally irrigated subak rice farms.
Residents of the villages of Bunutan and Tanggayuda, just north of Ubud, are undertaking a pilot project with the Bali Rice Field Conservation Foundation (Yayasan Konservasi Sawah Bali) to dedicate more than 117 productive acres exclusively to rice for the long term. The owners of the 135 farms in the program will receive regular subsidies from Sawah Bali for signing agreements not to turn their land into building plots, ensuring that the centuries-long practice of subak farming will continue — despite development.
The Vermont Land Trust was a familiar institution to Phyllis Kaplan, a Sandgate woman who'd worked on development issues in Bennington County. And when she first visited Bali, she says the pressure to develop traditional agricultural fields for suburban homes and hotels was familiar.
“To try to export something really wonderful from America and from Vermont, which is conservation.” - Phyllis Kaplan
For the past few years, Kaplan has been working to conserve land and preserve traditional farming in Bali by using the principles that land trusts in the United States have applied here for 40 years. She spoke with Vermont Edition about her work with the non-profit Sawah Bali.
Millions of tourists head to Bali each year for its pristine beaches and beautiful scenery, but are they also threatening the island’s entire future? David O’Shea visits a site not on the tourist trail, nicknamed Mount Rubbish… the huge pile of waste generated in part by the island’s visitors is now poisoning drinking water.
Locals say it’s just one way they’re under threat... the demand for the island's limited water supply is also threatening their farming industry and traditional way of life.
Elsewhere, land prices have increased by 1000% in five years, and plans to reclaim land in Benoa Bay for a vast tourist development are causing huge controversy. But with tourism also so important to Bali’s economy, how can the competing demands be met?
Rice may be the most important food on earth. About half the human race or 3.5 billion people, get 20 per- cent or more of their calories from rice each day. Rice is central to traditional Balinese culture and daily life. It’s an important part of offerings, blessings and ceremonies as well as the daily diet.
The Balinese people’s relation- ship with rice manifests every facet of the Tri Hita Karana philosophy, emphasising harmony between man and nature, his fellow man and the divine. They express their appreciation of rice through offerings and the honouring of Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice. A day without rice is a like a day without eating. Most Balinese people will not ask, “Have you eaten today?” but rather “Have you eaten rice today?”.
Yayasan Konservasi Sawah Bali, an Indonesian non-profit formed in 2013 to conserve Bali’s traditional rice paddies (sawah), increase the income and health of farmers, and maintain Bali’s rice culture in the face of over-development and threatening water shortages has announced the launch of an historic pilot project.
The agricultural land use preservation tool that Sawah Bali will introduce is modeled after a successful program in place in the U.S.A. for over 40 years. Sawah Bali will replicate the Vermont Land Trust concept that keeps the working landscape productive with best use practices for managing threatened natural resources with competing purposes. By conserving the farmland and subak in Bali, water's usage will be prioritized for subak, sawah, food production, security and ritual use.
Founder Phiphi Kaplan is interviewed by Bali TV on the mission of Sawah Bali.
"Panel on Conserving Bali's Sawah"
"Mother of Balinese Permaculture" Ibu Ni Luh Kartini and Phiphi Kaplan discuss potential solutions.
"What are the most important sustainability practices that Bali's expats can initiate in their personal lives?"
"Firstly, DO NOT BUILD, LEASE, BUY or LIVE IN THE SAWAH. If you must build, build in a village/town or on nonproductive land...Your western practices have serious environmental and social effects that are in conflict with the Balinese ethics, culture and credo"