No, not that kind. But now that I have your attention…
Readers who have followed my column over the years will be aware that I’m deeply concerned about the loss of agricultural land, especially rice fields, to development on Bali. But it’s not all bad news.
In 2007 I raised some money and worked with permaculture trainer Chakra Widia to train Balinese rice farmers in the System of Rice Intensification or SRI. (See the history of Bali’s rice culture and SRI information at http://baliadvertiser.biz/growing-more-rice-on-less-land) This technique uses much less rice seed and irrigation water, employs no chemical inputs and results in higher harvests than conventional cultivation methods. Chakra trained 32 trainers who were assigned to subaks around Bali and in turn trained over 200 rice farmers. When we followed up several years later most were still using SRI, but it had not gone viral as we had hoped. Farmers everywhere are a very conservative lot.
Some of the trainers would meet with Chakra at my house and I got to know three of them a little. They were hard-working, poor and modest farmers, arriving on elderly motorbikes and shy to be served tea in their worn clothes. As time went on and they witnessed the dramatic increase in yield from SRI they became committed to the technique and continued to train other farmers even after the project ended. Today they are all prosperous businessmen.
Pak Warsa is doing well as an SRI consultant, advising farmers on the best crops to grow, consolidating the produce and selling it to hotels and restaurants. Enlightened chefs have done a lot to create a market for this good, clean food.
Pak Warsa strides confidently through Locavore at lunch time, bearing his basket of chemical-free produce to the kitchen where he is warmly welcomed. This is the ideal farmer/restaurant dynamic. All three of Pak Warsa’s children have graduated from the Agriculture faculty at Udayana University and are taking the concept of sustainable food cultivation into their workplaces.
Pak Freddy is also an SRI consult and produces chemical-free rice, fruit, vegetables, herbs and honey from his farm north of Ubud. His son is studying architecture in Surabaya. Pak Tri has always been interested in healing herbs and now has an ayurvedic clinic and a successful business selling traditional herbs. His daughter is studying in Canada.
I am so proud of what these good men have accomplished. Producing food ethically and sustainably has brought them much deserved prosperity and respect. That’s a very happy ending. About 306 farmers are now trained and using sustainable cultivation systems and their earnings have risen from Rp 23,000/day to Rp 100,000/day.
Chakra, founder of Yayasan Tri Hita Karana, is a busy man these days. He has projects all over Bali and in Sumba, and is now providing organic certification to an international standard.
Chakra trains three people in each subak as the Internal Control System (ICS). They in turn train the farmers and monitor them. The ICS visits each farmer to check cultivation techniques and sends a report to Chakra, who then visits those suspected of using chemicals. Some farmers use pesticides at night to avoid detection. It’s the land, not the crop, which receives organic certification. Once certified, produce can command a premium price if the crop is of good quality. I heard a rumour that chemical-free (not yet certified organic) red rice from Bali sells in Singapore for Rp 140,000 for a kilogram.
A word about the word ‘organic’. I don’t use it because it’s interpreted very loosely here in Indonesia. In Bali farmers believe that if they use natural fertilisers their crops are organic, even if they later spray these crops with pesticides and fungicides. Farmers producing food without applying chemicals is the best we can do right now, so I use the term ‘chemical-free’.
“The whole concept of organic is not so much about rules as principals,” says Jon Leonard, a certified organic farmer in Australia for many years. He now works with local producers to raise the only free range organic chicken in Bali. “The most important thing is to heal the soil.”
“The problem is that organic certification is very expensive,” says Chakra. “It costs about Rp 100 juta, which is much too steep for ordinary farmers. So far, about 400 hectares in Bali have been certified under the sponsorship of a German company and the cacao and fruit will be exported to Germany.”
Certifying rice is problematic, Chakra told me. “We can only certify dry subak. Wet (irrigated) subak is always contaminated by chemicals becausethe irrigation water is shared by many farmers. Only if the whole subak at the top of the irrigation source pledges not use chemicals will the terraces further down be clean. It’s complicated.”
Unlike the farmers he’s helped to prosper, Chakra has not grown rich. Much of the work he does is voluntary. But “Mother Earth looks after me because I look after her,” he explains. And he spends a lot of time inventing things. After four years of thinking, he recently built a rice dryer fuelled by rice husks which can dry and husk three tons of rice a day while treating 300 bamboo poles a month. The ash from the fuel is used for pest control and fertiliser. Sponsored by the German consulate, this ingenious rice dryer is in constant use in Payongan.
It’s always inspiring to meet young Indonesians with a vision of profitable, sustainable food production. I met Kadek Lisa when we both worked with a local NGO after the 2004 tsunami in Sumatra. She was still in university then; after graduating she worked with Mitra Bali Fair Trade for several years. Savvy, smart and highly educated, she’s now the marketing manager for her cousin’s chemical-free asparagus farm. Growing on a hillside on the flanks of Mount Baturiti, the asparagus flourishes in the cool air. I believe this is the only commercial, chemical-free asparagus producer in Bali. It’s so fresh and flavourful you can eat it raw.
Lisa’s farm currently supplies several restaurants and private clients and delivers as follows:
Monday and Thursday to Canggu & Petitenget areas
Tuesday and Friday to Ubud area
Wednesday to Denpasar area
Saturday at the farmers market at Moksa in Sayan and at Gourmet Market (Wine House) in Kerobokan the first Saturday of each month
Then I talked to a co-founder of Yayasan Mas Hitam (Black Gold). This group of young Indonesians teaches sustainable farming techniques to subsistence farmers in trainings tailored to the local context and delivered in Indonesian. Currently they are working in southeast Lombok and northwest Sumbawa. In this very poor, arid region, 80 farmers will be trained in soil restoration techniques, landscape modification and especially water management.
They are also building an 18 are demo centre and experimental/education centre in Banjar Kalah on land donated by the enlightened owner who wants to save the farming lineage. The centre will be used for training, events, community outreach and may eventually become a community garden. To sponsor training in sustainable farming techniques, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To order asparagus, contact Lisa at email@example.com .
To ensure more happy endings for chemical-free farmers, seek out their products and support them at their markets.
In Ubud these include Saturday morning markets at Pizza Bagus and Moksa, Tuesday at Warung Alami next to Alchemy and Wednesday at Sopa. I recently attended the market at Moksa (a wonderful permaculture garden and vegan restaurant between Penestanan and Sayan) and was very impressed by the quality and price of the produce. Pak Freddy proudly sells his wares there.
Ibu Kat’s book of stories Bali Daze – Free-fall off the Tourist Trail is available from :
– Ganesha Books in Ubud, Sanur and Seminyak
– Amazon downloadable for Kindle
Copyright © 2016 Greenspeak
You can read all past articles of Greenspeak at www.BaliAdvertiser.biz