2014 04 23 In Heart of Bali’s Salak Country, a Struggle for Survival

In Heart of Bali’s Salak Country, a Struggle for Survival


By Anton Muhajir on 01:00 pm Mar 23, 2014
Category Environment, Featured, News
Tags: Bali, Bali Farmers, salak

Sibetan was once the heart of Bali’s salak-growing industry, but oversupply and an influx of imported fruit have seen the price of  the distinctive snake fruit plummet. (JG Photo/Anton MuhajirIn)

Sibetan was once the heart of Bali’s salak-growing industry, but oversupply and an influx of imported fruit have seen the price of
the distinctive snake fruit plummet. (JG Photo/Anton MuhajirIn)

The snake fruit, or salak , grown by I Nyoman Sepel Dyantara are unlike any other salak grown in Bali. There is no dusty taste, just a completely sweet taste with a nice crunchy texture.

Sepel’s salaks feel fresh because of the high water content. That’s because they are plucked right out of the tree just minutes before by one of Sepel’s farmer.

The salaks are harvested from a garden behind the office of a farming group named Mekar Sari. The plantation is just one of hundreds of salak plantations in Sibetan village in the Karangasem district of Bali, a two-hour drive from capital Denpasar.

Sibetan is a village which is on the map for its salak, famous for its sweet and fresh taste; big, crunchy flesh and superior quality. But it is now under threat because many farmers are considering other fields. The reason is simple: nobody buys them.

Geographically, Sibetan is the ideal place to grow salak. It is situated on a slope at an elevation of between 350 and 900 meters above sea level. The soil is slightly acidic with high moisture content, and consists mostly of clay and sand. The area has a monthly rainfall of around 100 millimeters with an average temperature of 25 degrees Celsius.

The soil’s fertility stems from the 1963 eruption of 1963 eruption of Mount Agung, Bali’s biggest volcano, which scattered volcanic ash over this hilly area. And so Sibetan became a top fruit producing region, growing not only salak but also durian, bananas and other tropical fruits.

But salak proved to be the most popular product. So high was the demand that farmers in the village gradually switched to salak. Eventually, Sibetan became synonymous with salak, and vice versa.

Sepel recounted his childhood when salak became the village’s icon. The entire village was dependent on the fruit, while Sibetan became the nursing ground for all varieties of the fruit, from sugarcane salak and Balinese salak, to pineapple salak and jackfruit salak.

Sepel’s parents could afford to send him to a university in Mataram in the neighboring island of Lombok, because of salak.

“Salak to us was an effective means of sending people’s children to college,” he said.

Meanwhile, university students and researchers also flocked to Sibetan to study its salak.

At one corner of the farmers’ group office is a cupboard stuffed with awards and souvenirs from visiting students or farmers’ groups. At another end were more awards, plaques and medals hung on a wall beneath a picture of Mekar Sari founder I Wayan Putu Ardika receiving yet another award from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The awards and recognitions amount to nothing now, Sepel said. Farmers are faced with a bitter option: sell the salak cheap, or let it rot.

This month in Sibetan, the salak harvest season was at its peak. “There’s so much [salak],” he said adding that each farmer can collect around 1.8 tons each harvest season, which happens twice a year between January and March and between August and September.

Most farmers grow the sugarcane salak variety, which normally sells for around Rp 15,000 ($1.30) per kilogram, three times more than other varieties. But recently that is not what happened.

“We have no choice but to sell them cheaply,” said one farmer, I Wayan Pica Antara, adding that middlemen took advantage of the surplus of salak by paying just Rp 5,000 per kilogram. “We might fetch a better price selling directly to the city but it is not worth the labor and transport costs.”

Sepel realizes that farmers need to cut their dependence on the supply to get a better price, by forming a collective to sell directly to Bali’s hotels and gift shops.

But the idea hit a snag because most hotels accept consignment first and pay later. “We’d have to wait for months to get paid while we need the money right away,” Sepel said, adding that major hotels preferred imported fruits.

Pica said money was the only obstacle in Sibetan’s way of getting back to its glory days. The village farmers need huge capital to transport and pay overhead expenses to sell directly to customers and earn a bit of profit. They also have plans to process salak into chips or dodol (a toffee-like confection) which have better shelf-life, but lack proper skills and need money to buy the necessary equipment and build a processing center.

Worse still, with growing demand for imported fruits , not even the middlemen want to buy them. Large amounts of unsold salak end up as mulch or as pig feed. This has been going on for years now, Sepel said, forcing the younger generation to look for better-paying work in the construction and hospitality industries, while the older generation is forced to give up their land to make way for holiday homes and hotels.

But Sepel is not giving up on the industry that defined his village. Through his farmers’ group he tries to come up with a financing scheme through banks and cooperatives.

“If there is a steady flow of cash we’ll be alright. All we have to worry about is producing more salak,” he said.

2014-04-10 I Love Bali: Ubud Community confidential

I Love Bali: Ubud Community confidential


by Made Wijaya on 2014-04-10

A new Facebook group is gaining traction in the once sleepy hamlet of Ubud, now overrun with expat yoginis and villa people.

Like their confreres on the coast, the new Ubud expat feels empowered and speaks of “his/her community” and the need to teach the Balinese about electronic cigarettes and respecting the goddess in middle-aged white women’s breasts.

Unlike the coastal group, called Bali Expat or Expat Bali Crime Report (that’s a doozie), there is a subversive faction within Ubud Community (UC) Facebook dedicated to sending up the New Agers and Karmic-Kalifornian healers.

The subversives make hysterical satirical postings about ear wax readings and the imminent threat of Ubud footpaths being awash with veggie poo.

One Made Surya posted “ Wanted: poor bule to work in rice fields. Knowledge of Subak system and Bahasa Indonesia a plus.” He was attacked by right wing zealots for employing Balinese (ng’walek) humor. Jakartan goody-goodies suggested he look on the positive side. Ha!

Until recently, Ubud was home to a benign community of expats — artists, writers and Tjokaholiks — who knew their place and respected the local culture. Now the trend is to reeducate the locals with missionary zeal. The zealots talk of radicalized young Balinese (too much lawar?) meeting in the back rooms of the Circle K outlets to brag about the physical abuse of western women. Balinese contributors are ridiculed if they try to make light of the hysteria by using satirical postings to highlight the madness.

One faction wants to put up posters on Balinese temples to educate people about cultural awareness.

“Put up posters in your own country,” I screamed, in print, “the Balinese don’t need lessons in cultural awareness.”

“Excuse me for breathing you is not tell me what to do” came the reply (there is less debate on expat pages than there is punctuation).

UC complains of the change in the behavior of the once-welcoming Ubud Balinese.

As a concerned individual, I made a trip to check it out. I went via the Singapadu-Sayan road and turned off at Tebongkang. From then on it was bumper to bumper all the way to Peliatan. The Balinese and the expats all looked very pissed off in their sport utility vehicle (SUV), but who doesn’t in a traffic jam?

Every second Balinese motorbike rider was dressed like a father-for-rent — so what’s new? At the wedding I was invited to, the high priest from Padang Tegal looked straight through me (I was front row and genuflecting madly with a Peliatan palace groupie pin shining from my lapel — perhaps that was the problem). Palace aunties called me fat, as a compliment. Nothing seemed that different.

I asked my host about the rumored rift and he said that, yes, locals were sick of expats working as bartenders and even bricklayers in the Ubud area. His bride was dressed in the most fabulous Bridezilla confection, including a five-meter train of blood red mosquito net. Herald angels were barking.

I fled south after the crumbed prawns vowing never to return until Ubud gets some traffic cops and I get personal liability insurance.


Made Wijaya is a cultural observer and author of many books on Balinese architecture and culture.

2014-04-11 Rastini, the salt farmer in Suwung mangrove forest

Rastini, the salt farmer in Suwung mangrove forest


by Bram Setiawan on 2014-04-11

Tough lady: Sixty six-year-old Made Rastini boils processed seawater to produce salt in her frugal hut. Making salt the traditional way is a long and exhausting chore. (BD/Bram Setiawan)Tough lady: Sixty six-year-old Made Rastini boils processed seawater to produce salt in her frugal hut. Making salt the traditional way is a long and exhausting chore. (BD/Bram Setiawan)

Despite her age, 66-year-old Made Rastini of Pemogan subdistrict, Denpasar, works persistently under the city’s sweltering sun. She is the only salt farmer in the Suwung mangrove forest, one of Denpasar’s coastal areas.

“I’m not interested in other jobs, I like making salt. It keeps me healthy,” Rastini said. “Besides, this is something my family has been doing for a long time.”

Rastini works 100 square meters of land owned by a person she said lives in Renon. She used to have her own land, which reached 1,000 sqm, but sold it for economic reasons. “My sibling sold it, because the land tax was so high that I couldn’t pay it just by producing salt,” she said.

Producing salt is certainly heavy work for Rastini, but she is fortunate not to have to search for buyers. “I don’t have to go anywhere because buyers come here,” she said.

They were not just looking to buy salt, Rastini said, they were also looking to get the crusts from the production process. According to her, the crusts could be used for traditional medications.

“The crusts can be boiled with water. After it is warm, people can use it for medication, such as rheumatic therapy,” Rastini said.

Buyers are also interested in getting the residual seawater that Rastini boils in the production process. This brownish water, locally referred to as yeh siepan, is thick due to its high salinity.

“Like the crust, yeh siepan can be used for rheumatic therapy. Also, people can use it to make tofu, beautify dog fur and also to cure itching,” she said. One jerry can of yeh siepan is sold for Rp 50,000 (US$4.40).

On sunny days, Rastini usually starts salt production at 6 a.m. The first step in the process is to dig holes in the ground and fill them with seawater. Interestingly, Rastini digs by following the four main wind directions.

“It is my form of respect to the deities who guard those directions,” she said.

Afterwards, Rastini puts soil into the pools and leaves them for six hours before collecting the saline soil in several wooden baskets. When this is done, she puts them in a palungan (wooden trough) and wets them with more seawater.

At the bottom of the palungan, Rastini makes a small hole that she clogs with coconut fiber to filter the water that comes out. “The water that comes out of the hole will be boiled to make the salt,” she said.

To know how saline the water is, Rastini traditionally puts several mangrove leaves on the surface. Floating leaves, she said, showed that the salinity was sufficient. Rastini pours water back into the palungan until the required salinity is achieved.

“If the water is saline enough, although the leaves are thick and heavy, they won’t sink. Even if they sink, they will come back to the surface,” she said.

For the final process, Rastini boils the water in an aluminum pot for six hours, until it crystallizes as salt.

One kilogram of the salt is normally sold for Rp 5,000, while one large basket containing around 10 kilograms is priced at Rp 30,000.

PAUD established in remote Karangasem area

PAUD established in remote Karangasem area


by Fikri Zaki Muhammadi on 2014-04-21

East Bali Cashews (EBC), the island’s first large-scale and environmentally friendly cashew processing facility, on Thursday inaugurated its early learning center (PAUD) to offer children within the rural Ban village a comprehensive pre-elementary school education.

Located around 90 kilometers from the glamorous multimillion dollar hotels and prosperity of southern Bali, the early learning center — named AnaKardia Kids from the combination of the Indonesian word for children, anak, and the Latin of cashews, Anacardium – aims to give mothers who work at the factory a chance to focus on their jobs without having to think of their children’s early education.

It was EBC founder, Aaron Fishman, an American entrepreneur who focuses on rural development, who coined the idea after the recent expansion of the factory, which has successfully created around 215 new jobs, 85 percent of which are for women who have never held formal employment prior to the company’s launch in 2012.

Asked why he had established the early learning center, Fishman said, “Obviously education is important and the children here deserve it.”

AnaKardia Kids currently has 15 children and plans to accommodate a total of 60 students, primarily aged between two and six years old. It currently employs 10 teachers, each of whom works with teachers from Cognita’s Stamford American International School in Singapore to develop lesson plans.

The lessons employ a learn-through-play approach, encompassing educational toys and materials, many of which have been donated by the school’s teachers, students and families.

Teachers from the school in Singapore said that they were happy to help build the village through education.

“Hopefully we’ve been very helpful. We look forward to doing something like this again,” they said.

Fishman said it cost his team around Rp 20,000 (US$1.74) per day per student to provide eight hours of study, as well as breakfast, lunch and snacks for the children.

“We wanted the community to engage in this as well, so we actually charge the people Rp 5,000 […] So it’s not totally free,” he added, saying it was a way to make the students come every day and the parents help share responsibility for developing the center.

US Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Blake presided over the inauguration and said that the opening showed the positive impact of US investment in Indonesia.

“Aaron Fishman has shown the power of the individual and the power of innovation to see an opportunity in a local community and develop something from it,” Blake said.

He said that Fishman managed to build human and social capital in the village, which were essential components of development.

“It’s a wonderful and unique story because it shows that it’s possible to bring prosperity and social development to every corner of Indonesia,” Blake said. “And I think this can be replicated on a very wide scale to other parts of eastern Indonesia.”

Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika, who was represented by Bali Plantation Agency head I Dewa Made Buana Duwuran, lauded the opening, saying that it had helped the province educate youths in remote areas of Bali.

“Many efforts have been made to support cashew production in Bali, including area expansion, land optimization, provision of processing facilities and infrastructure,” Pastika said.

According to Fishman, the company currently produced 500 tons of cashews per year. It plans to triple production this year and reach 3,000 tons within the next two years, giving the village more potential to boost its economy.

Sibang: A conservation area for Bali starlings

Sibang: A conservation area for Bali starlings


by Desy Nurhayati on 2014-04-22

Sibang village has recently been declared a conservation area for Bali starlings under a project initiated by Begawan Foundation, in cooperation with the local community and the Bali office of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA).

The declaration was marked by the release of four birds into the village area on April 18, in an event held in the grounds of Green School, where the breeding site is located.

This was the second time the foundation had released the endangered species from the breeding site, which currently houses a total of 63 birds. The first release took place in November 2012.

“Having strong and solid support from local communities is the biggest factor in the success of previous releases. We have been working closely with the local community in Sibang for some time now,” Tasya Karissa, the foundation’s administrator, said Monday.

“Our 2012 release broke the previous assumption that Bali starlings could only survive in a habitat similar to that of the West Bali National Park. We therefore decided to release them once again in Sibang,” she told Bali Daily.

Both Begawan Foundation and the Sibang community have agreed to install signs promoting protection of the species at several locations across the village’s seven banjar (customary hamlets).

“We’re voluntarily committed to support the conservation effort of Begawan Foundation, and we have discussed this with all heads of banjar,” said I Gusti Ngurah Agung Watusila, king of Sibang.

Monitoring of free birds has shown that there is sufficient food, water and natural nesting places for them to adapt readily to the local habitat.

As the birds are flying within the grounds of Green School, observation is undertaken daily, and has shown that Bali starlings have no fear of being near buildings and gardens, and in fact take advantage of the situation, finding readily available sources of food and shelter.

“It is clear that the Bali starling can survive in any habitat that has sufficient food and nesting opportunities, as long as they are not threatened by humans or other local predators,” Tasya said.

The foundation plans to release 10 Bali starlings this year during a series of events involving students and local communities.

After the April 18 release, the second release this year is scheduled for June 17, to coincide with the Green School’s graduation ceremony. A pair of birds will be released into the wild on this occasion.

The final release for 2014 will take place in October, involving four of the species.

In addition to Sibang, the foundation also plans to designate an area in Manggis, Karangasem, to be a conservation zone for the birds hailed as the mascot of Bali province.

A breeding site was built late last year within the Amankila resort, which is similar to the one built in Green School.

Bali starlings have been registered as an endangered bird species by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) since 1970, when numbers were reduced significantly by both poaching and loss of habitat.

“But thanks to initiatives from various parties, like Begawan Foundation, to conserve this species the population has begun to recover in its habitat,” said I Ketut Catur Marbawa, BKSDA Bali’s head of conservation division.

“Even now, trading in Bali starlings is legal,” he added, explaining that in the early 2000s, the price of one starling could reach Rp 20 million (US$1,744), but now the price had decreased.

For Begawan Foundation, support from international zoos, including Chester Zoo and Waddesdon Manor Aviary in the UK, Cologne Zoo in Germany and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, has assisted in ensuring that its breeding and release program could continue to grow.

The foundation was established in 1999 by Bradley and Debbie Gardner, with the Bali starling conservation project becoming its first initiative, aimed at reintroducing the beautiful species and saving it from the real threat of extinction.

After successfully breeding the birds between 1999 and 2005, the foundation released 65 birds in Nusa Penida in 2006 and 2007. In 2010, the foundation brought back its remaining captive stock, along with their enclosures, to the foundation’s breeding site and recommenced its breeding program.

Prior to their release into the wild, the birds are usually tagged with colored rings to record their movements on a daily basis. Nest boxes placed in large nearby trees provide homes for the released Bali starlings to lay their eggs and begin a new small flock in the area.

With nest boxes, food and water available within the breeding area, the birds are expected to stay close to home, where they can continue to be observed and monitored by the foundation’s staff, as well as by Green School students and staff and the local community.

These birds have been paired with local Bali starlings and used purely for breeding, to strengthen the Bali starling bloodlines, with their offspring marked for future release programs in Bali.

Pejaten village: home of beautiful pottery

Pejaten village: home of beautiful pottery

by Bram Setiawan on 2014-04-23

Sunshine: Terra-cotta roof shingles are dried under the sun before being fired in the kiln.Sunshine: Terra-cotta roof shingles are dried under the sun before being fired in the kiln.

Making earthenware is one of the oldest crafts in the world and is still widely practiced in Bali, which is famous for its beautiful pottery.

Pejaten village in Tabanan regency, around 25 kilometers west of Denpasar, is Bali’s most prominent pottery center, producing a large variety of earthenware goods ranging from terracotta roof tiles, to household utensils, interior and exterior ornaments and other items.

Entering the village is like visiting an art center filled with lines of workshops offering diverse forms of pottery.

Made Suparta is one of the craftsmen and producers of earthenware goods in Banjar Pangkung hamlet, Pejaten village. Suparta took the business over from his forefathers, who had been creating art products from clay for decades.

“In the past, our ancestors resided in Pejaten, which has no fertile rice fields, unlike other villages in Tabanan,” Suparta said.

Tabanan is Bali’s most plentiful rice basket, with hectares of green and fertile terraced rice fields, including those in Jatiluwih, now a UNESCO world heritage site.

“Our village is surrounded by rivers and our forefathers earned their living by producing household utensils from clay taken from the riverbeds,” Suparta recalled.

The oldest and simplest forms of earthenware items were terra-cotta roof tiles, locally known as Genteng Pejaten, which the village is still famous for. Other products were vases, statues, ashtrays, plates, ritual containers and decorative arts.

The techniques and processing methods to make pottery underwent gradual changes in line with the introduction of machinery.

Technology: A soft clay block is placed in the stamping machine.Technology: A soft clay block is placed in the stamping machine.

Delicate: The freshly stamped roof shingles are dried indoors for 24 hours before being taken outside and placed under the direct sunlight.Delicate: The freshly stamped roof shingles are dried indoors for 24 hours before being taken outside and placed under the direct sunlight.

Furnace: Made Suparta shows the simple kiln used in the last stage of producing the roof tiles.Furnace: Made Suparta shows the simple kiln used in the last stage of producing the roof tiles.

“In the past, craftsmen only created by hand, producing plain, undecorated surfaces. Now, we can produce a vast array of pottery products from natural terracotta to more sophisticated glazed vases and containers to meet with local and international market demand,” said Suparta.

Suparta, who took over the family business in 1995, ships his products to the Netherlands, Germany and other European countries.

“My Dutch clients usually order terracotta statues, vases and plates, while clients from Germany buy terracotta bricks to build their villas here or to ship them to their own country,” Suparta said.

Despite the flourishing pottery business, Pejaten village is facing critical problems. “Regeneration has not been working well here. Only a group of old artisans are still committed to preserving this centuries-old skill. Young people prefer to leave the village to find work in the city,” Suparta said.

The majority of workers and artisans in Pejaten come from Java and Lombok. “All of my employees are Lombok natives,” Suparta said.

The pottery business has obviously improved the living condition of Pejaten’s residents. “Our two neighboring villages, Bengkel and Nyitdah, are now following our tradition,” Suparta said.

Unfortunately, he remains concerned that young people in these three villages would not have any interest in preserving the artistic creations that had made the villages so prosperous and well known.

— Photos by Bram Setiawan

Bali: Paradise Lost?

Bali: Paradise Lost?


The first time I went to Bali, I felt a lot like I did when I was six years old and walked into the magical world of Disney Land for the first time – that surreal feeling you get when you think you have found heaven on Earth.

Bali’s got all the best rides: five story night clubs filled with an international array of travelers, serene Hindu temples that would even make Jim Cramer feel at peace, and waves so incredible they surpass even your dream notebook doodles. It’s almost perfect… almost.

But then you smell the burning plastic as you drive past the mountains of trash that have been carelessly dumped in rice fields. And you start to think, ‘This wasn’t in the brochure.’

According to Bali’s Environmental Agency, 15 thousand cubic meters of trash are disposed of along roadsides and at illegal dumps everyday. That’s enough to fill six Olympic sized swimming pools everyday. Last year 11x surfing world champion, Kelly Slater, tweeted “If Bali doesn’t #DoSomething serious about its pollution, it’ll be impossible to surf here in a few years. Worst I’ve ever seen.” For an economy that relies 80% on tourism and sells itself as a tropical paradise, this poses quite a problem.

I learned all of this while we were shooting our latest Surfing For Change video in Bali. I had already planned the surf trip and loosely had the idea to make a 2 minute-ish video about the trash issue along the way. My big brother/travel partner Toby is also a surfer and filmmaker, so I bribed him into being the cameraman with payment in the form of Bintang beers and delicious bowls of Nasi Goreng. But as filmmaking goes, we met more and more people who had interesting things to say and our little two-minute PSA turned into a 13-minute documentary.

As we met with the central players working on the issue, the main question I had was, ‘Why is Bali drowning in trash?’

Through the interviews I learned that this is a systemic issue that ties in closely with economic and cultural habits. And everyone has blood on their hands, including me.

I learned that locals are partly responsible, in many ways because their habits have stayed the same while the products they use have changed. Folded banana leaves used to be Balinese’s primary form of packaging, however in recent years they’ve been replaced with plastic bags. The issue is that they haven’t changed the habit of throwing it to the side of the road when they’re finished. A banana leaf will biodegrade within a few weeks but a plastic bag will be around for your grandkids to inherit. This being said, I also witnessed a lot of tourists who were throwing trash on the side of the street as well.

Government is also responsible because they failed to put proper waste management systems in place for the millions of tourists they invite to come to their island each year. The Indonesian Government’s solution to making this trash ‘disappear’ has largely been through the process of using incinerators, which release toxic pollutants into the air. Now respiratory illness is the number one reported illness in Bali.


Some corporations share responsibility for this epidemic because they are producing the toxic products that, when thrown away, never biodegrade and when incinerated, release carcinogenic chemicals into the Islands’ atmosphere.

And finally, tourists, because we are the ones demanding the plastic bags and all the rest of the disposable products that make us feel like we’re in a safe and familiar place.

The picture I’ve painted so far might give you the impression that this is an island filled with people who just want to party ’till the ship goes down, but as our interviews went on, the most exciting thing I learned is that people all over the island are stepping up to solve this waste epidemic.

In one interview my brother and I met with the head of Project Clean Uluwatu. This group started small by distributing trash containers to the local warungs, the small family owned restaurants, of Uluwatu. This way the warung waste would at least get taken to the dumps. Since then they’ve worked on informal education to change the disposal habits of tourists and locals. Right now they’re installing a $50,000 liquid waste processor at the base of Uluwatu. This will filter the human waste and warung cooking oil through the processor- and the remaining gray-water will go into gardens. Currently human waste and warung cooking oil go straight into the ocean at Uluwatu.

On a larger scale, organizations such as Bali Fokus are running campaigns to encourage Balinese to compost food waste, which makes up a high percentage of the total waste in Bali. In one interview we met with Pak Ketut Putra, Director of Conservation International Indonesia. He is working to get Hindu religious leaders on board to educate people on proper waste disposal habits.


It seems that Bali’s waste epidemic is simply a race against time. Will corporations begin manufacturing and selling truly biodegradable products in time? (Aquafina making a smaller plastic cap on their bottles and calling it ‘green’ doesn’t count.) Will locals change their habits in time? Will Bali’s government adopt effective waste disposal techniques in time? And finally, will we, the tourists, the ultimate drivers of Bali’s markets demand change? Will we refuse plastic bags and bring our own reusable ones? Will we lobby corporations to build better products? Will we stand with – and help fund- the organizations working to clean up Bali?

I believe the answers to these questions will determine not just the fate of Bali, but the fate of many blossoming tourist destinations like it. Ultimately, what happens to Bali will be a reflective example of our own capacity to change our ways.


Follow Kyle Thiermann on Twitter: www.twitter.com/surfing4change

Plastic Bags, One Million Signatures to Rid Bali of Plastic Bags

One Million Signatures to Rid Bali of Plastic Bags

by Struan Gray on Monday 27th January, 2014   52364 Visits   Comments

“The sheer volume of plastic is unprecedented. The scary thing is that it’s getting worse every year.” Jason Childs, surf photographer. © 2014 Jason Childs

Every off season, as the monsoon rains arrive and the onshore winds strengthen, Bali’s western beaches are besieged by plastic. Beach cleaning operations make the tideline bearable, but until now there have been few initiatives to strike at the heart of the problem. Under mounting pressure from ocean goers, the Governor of Bali, Made Mangku Pastika, told local surfers that he would ban the manufacture, distribution and use of plastic bags on Bali if one million signatures were gained, so let’s hold him to his word. Sign the petition HERE.

The sheer volume of plastic is unprecedented. The scary thing is that it’s getting worse every year. Jason Childs, Surf Photographer

The polyethylene plague stems from rampant dumping of everyday waste into inland lagoons and rivers. When the rains arrive and the rivers swell, vast quantities of rubbish flow directly into the ocean, where it meets other waste from Java, and is blown back landward by the westerly trade winds. Rubbish flowing from the East Coast follows an unobstructed route into the Indian Ocean. 

The rubbish slick stretches from Ulus to Canggu, leaving Kuta Beach resembling a landfill site. “The sheer volume of plastic is unprecedented,” says 20-year Bali resident and surf photographer, Jason Childs. “The scary thing is that it’s getting worse every year.”

This annual plastic tide was at first dismissed as a “natural phenomenon by Bali’s governor, Made Mangku Pastika. © 2014 Jason Childs

The problem was at first dismissed by Bali’s Governor as a “natural phenomenon which routinely occurs,” thus absolving anyone from guilt. However, campaigners have persisted and forced a promise to ban plastic bags on the island if a petition to raise one million signatures is successful. On a global scale, this is not a groundbreaking promise, with several countries (most notably China) having already imposed an outright ban on thin plastic bags, but it does represent a shift in the dialogue in Bali, and could conceivably spread to Indonesia as a whole.

“It’s a really big, crazy amount of signatures we have to get. It’s a big challenge, but if we do it, it would change the world.”Sonny Perrussel, 13.

Disgusted by having to share the linuep with nappies, plastic and syringes, thirteen year old Balinese resident, Sonny Perrussel, was one of the campaign’s founders. “It’s just disgusting and really sad. It’s really bad [for surfing] because it smells and your skin gets oily,” he says. “It’s a really big, crazy amount of signatures we have to get. It’s a big challenge, but if we do it, it would change the world.”

This scheme will not bring an end to coastal contamination in Bali; insufficient infrastructure and plastic packaging will persist long after the last thin plastic bag is disposed of, but rarely is an opportunity such as this offered up, and it is a crucial step in the struggle. If you wish to help, sign the petition HERE. Spread the word on social media using the hashtag: #plasticbali

After every plastic tide the beach is swept, and rubbish relocated, perhaps soon to rejoin the cycle. © 2014 Jason Childs

Bali’s Environment Is Out of Balance Due to Too Much Tourism

Bali’s Environment Is Out of Balance Due to Too Much Tourism


Click to Enlarge !


A string of letters the height of a man stand in the middle of a lush padi field in Bali. “Not For Sale”, they spell.

The words are not scarecrows meant to frighten off birds. They are meant to keep away investors, says Gede Agus, who put them up about three years ago.

“I got fed up of fending off people constantly knocking on my door asking me to sell my land. the 32-year-old graphic artist told The Straits Times, proudly showing off the letters he made out of wood.

“They want to build villas, a hotel or their luxury homes,” he said.

The 2,000 sq m of land he inherited from his parents six years ago in a sub-district of Ubud is flat, making it attractive for development. A Japanese man offered him double its value to convert it into a luxury private villa but he’s not biting. Instead, Agus says his precious view is one he can gaze out on for inspiration during breaks from his work in the design studio he built overlooking the field.

In another village 20 minutes away, Ketut Sudarsa, 42, is under pressure. As the only property owner along Nyuh Kuning district still holding on to his 2,000 sq m padi field, offers have been raining down on him from both local and foreign investors.

While some padi farmers have allowed investors to develop part of their land in return for rent, others are fighting to keep their entire properties from the clutches of interested parties. They fight off lucrative purchase offers almost daily.

Indeed, Bali is the hottest ticket in Indonesia for property development with tourism growing an average of 10 per cent annually in the last five years, and reaching 2.88 million arrivals last year.

This year’s figure is expected to exceed a record 3 million, a far cry from years of depressed tourism following the bomb blasts in 2002 that killed 202 people, and another in 2005, which killed 26. But Bali’s charm has for long drawn many visitors.

Before it experienced mass tourism, it was a playground for the rich and famous as early as the 1920s. The idyllic setting and friendly locals inspired Charlie Chaplin, who visited in 1932, to make a film poking fun at the Europeans and Dutch colonials who began their early attempts at developing the place by building roads and harvesting more rice for themselves.

But the latest wave of mass tourism has had undesirable side effects. Massive traffic jams plague the island’s mostly narrow roads and rubbish from increased commercial activities has piled up along the beaches.

Lax enforcement has seen land conversions go unchecked, especially under-the-table deals between locals eager to cash in on their land with investors who are willing to pay.

“From 2007 to now, Bali has lost 5,000ha of agricultural land, or about 1,000ha yearly to tourism development,” says Professor Wayan Widya from Bali’s Udayana University.

The rate of loss between 2008 and now has gone up by 30 per cent from the period between 2002 and 2007, in tandem with the island’s rising tourism activities, he told The Straits Times.

The shrinking amount of land available has threatened Bali’s self-sufficiency in rice.

“I call this overdevelopment,” says Prof Widya, who also chairs a committee on preserving subak, the unique irrigation system seen in Bali’s famed tiered rice fields. The fields are listed by Unesco as a piece of world heritage.

In Bali’s southern coast, Kuta is known for bars selling cheap beer, playing throbbing music and filled with raucous crowds. It is also famous for its packed beaches crawling with touts and the infamous “Kuta cowboys” or gigolos.

The adjoining Seminyak and Legian areas pitch themselves as more sophisticated, with their boutiques, chic restaurants and bars, although many fear it could gradually go the way of Kuta, which has become so trashy it has turned off many visitors.

The government has earmarked Nusa Dua — a hamlet that juts out from the southernmost part of the island — as the premier location in Indonesia for global events such as the Apec or WTO meetings. The area is home to 700-room resorts and convention centres like the Bali Nusa Dua, where the Miss World contest was moved to from Jakarta this year.

The mushrooming developments have clogged irrigation channels to rice fields inland, often drying them up and driving up the cost of tending the land.

Made Suarnatha, from environmental non-government organisation Wisnu Foundation, said: “These are tough times for farmers to make a decent living so they are tempted to let go of their land for fast but huge money.”

Farmers can earn as little as 2.5 million rupiah (US$197.36) monthly for one hectare of land, just 600,000 rupiah ($49.20) above Bali’s minimum wage.

Said Sudarsa: “It is hard work tending to land but my land is a symbol of the link to ancestors. So I consider this a priceless asset.”

The Indonesia Employers Association in Bali has urged the government to take tough action and impose sanctions on what it calls rogue investors who manipulate the system to buy land illegally.

The Bali chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) is going further and demanding a moratorium on construction of tourism facilities. Earlier this year, a Walhi-led coalition of NGOs sued the Bali governor for approving land conversions in a mangrove area, in breach of environmental laws.

“We are grateful that Bali has been prosperous because of tourism. But let’s pause for a while and take stock of the environmental destruction,” said Walhi’s Bali chapter chairman Wayan Gendo Suardana.

For others, holding on to their land also means holding on to Bali’s charm.

“We are spiritual people. To me, owning land and not disturbing it is taking care of Bali’s soul,” said Agus.

“If we allow more padi fields to be converted, someday these views will become scarce, an irony since the main draw for most tourists here is to seek tranquillity by being amid padi fields,” he added.

(c)2013 the Asia News Network (Hamburg, Germany). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Relentless tourism spawns trouble in paradise

Relentless tourism spawns trouble in paradise


Holiday hot spot Bali is being submerged by an environmental crisis.

Loving Bali to death

Indonesia correspondent Michael Bachelard explores the major environmental issues of a wealthier society in paradise.

As long as the water continues to flow into his rice fields, Nengah Daryana will keep farming his family’s land just to the north of Bali’s holiday capital, Kuta.

For tourists, his 2300 square metres of emerald green rice paddy on the edge of town is a point of serene beauty – one of the things that draws millions to visit the Island of the Gods. For Nengah, it’s his inheritance: ”These five plots belonged to my father … My grandfather was also a farmer, and my ancestors.”

Nearby, though, Nengah’s uncle, Putu Wirnatha, has been forced to abandon his family plot.

Bali shows The land in the panoramas is self-explanatory, the farmer is Nengah, who I'm quoting, the building is the Mulia hotel and the burning rubbish is at the Mangrove forest. for SUNDAY AGE News Pub date 28th April 2013

The new 700-room Mulia hotel, which has been built on the previously pristine Nusa Dua Beach. Photo: Michael Bachelard

”In the past five years, it is boxed in by buildings, houses … they cut his access to water,” Nengah says. ”There’s no view, no irrigation. There’s nothing we can do.”

This family’s story encapsulates the dilemma that tourism presents for Bali. The buildings erected to allow people to come and enjoy the view are spoiling it; the tonnes of rubbish dumped every day are fouling the beaches; the burgeoning traffic is disturbing the peace; and the massive demand for water could trump all these problems within five or 10 years.

”Yes,” says the chairman of Bali’s tourism board, Ngurah Wijaya, ”we are loving Bali to death.”

Bali shows The land in the panoramas is self-explanatory, the farmer is Nengah, who I'm quoting, the building is the Mulia hotel and the burning rubbish is at the Mangrove forest. for SUNDAY AGE News Pub date 28th April 2013

Nengah Daryana on his family farm north of Kuta. Photo: Michael Bachelard

Bali’s sophisticated communal irrigation system, in which water flows from channel to field and back to channel among multiple farms, is called subak. Negah Daryana says that ”as long as the subak system still works” his father will not sell their land to the developers.

But subak is not just about irrigation. It’s a network of farms, a ritual of meetings and agreements and an important expression of the Balinese religious philosophy of ”Tri Hita Karana”, which holds that there are three sources of happiness: people’s relationship to God, to each other, and to nature.

Disrupt the flow of water, and you disrupt water worship in Balinese Hinduism, the rituals of which are part of the island’s allure, as well as its World Heritage listing. Now, though, because of tourism, the entire water supply of Bali is under severe stress.

The soundtrack at hundreds of upscale Bali hotels is the gentle play of water in swimming pools and fountains. But despite its tropical rainfall, clean water is in critical undersupply. I Made Suanatha, from the local non-government Wisnu Foundation, says locals use about 150 litres of water a day, tourists in hotels use 1500 litres or more.

Most of it does not come down pipes from dams. Those who are connected to piped water find that it rarely actually flows. Instead, businesses and households rely on wells. The hand-bored wells of the locals are about 10 to 12 metres deep. At the big hotels, artesian water is pumped from 60 metres underground.

All wells are supposed to be taxed and regulated but nobody pays and nobody measures how much is extracted. The volume is now so great that saltwater is beginning to spoil them.

A researcher at Bali’s Udayana university, I Nyoman Sunarta, has identified saltwater intrusion throughout Bali’s southern tourist strip and says water quality has ”degraded quite alarmingly” in recent years.

British academic Dr Stroma Cole says 260 of Bali’s 400 rivers have run dry and Bali’s biggest natural reserve of water, Lake Buyan, is in deep trouble from shrinkage, sediment and the inflow of agricultural chemicals.

Water that once flowed from springs and into and out of rice paddies to feed the subak system is being sold to the drinking water companies for purification and sale in plastic bottles, or diverted to keep tourist activities such as rafting afloat.

The catchments are declining fast. Bali’s zoning regulations require a minimum of 30 per cent of the island be covered by forest, but that figure is now 23 per cent and falling.

”As more hotels, villas, golf courses and businesses are built to cater for [tourists], the quality and quantity of forest, lakes, catchments and watersheds decline, reducing the availability of water,” Nyoman writes.

He puts Bali’s water deficit at somewhere upwards of 15,000 gigalitres per year – 25 times the volume of Sydney harbour – and rising towards 27,000 gigalitres by 2015.

”The use of water in Bali is very far beyond the island’s carrying capacity,” Nyoman says. ”With its tourism development, Bali is in an environmental crisis caused by competition over very limited natural resources.”

The deficit means subak is breaking down. It still works for Nengah, but it’s an intricate system that relies on his neighbours and his neighbours’ neighbours resisting the urge to sell their land to developers.

”We still have meetings, loans to buy seeds, fertiliser and pesticide, and it’s still being organised and assisted by the government,” Nengah says. ”I hope it continues.”

The incentive for poor rice farmers to sell their ancestral land is immense. From his 2300 square metres of land a few kilometres south, Nengah earns just $4000 per year farming rice.

”It’s not much, but it feeds my family,” he says.

By contrast, real estate in nearby Seminyak now sells freehold for $250,000 per 100 sq m. It’s no surprise that locals put their ancestral paddies on the auction block.

Farmers further and further up Bali’s south-western coast are selling to tourists (expatriates as well as those from Indonesia’s growing middle class) who fall in love with the island and want to stay, or to the developers who serve them with fresh villas, hotels and shopping malls.

Rice terraces are being converted to buildings at a rate of about 1000 hectares a year and demand is only increasing. Property analysts Knight Frank say prices for luxury property in Bali increased by 20 per cent in 2012 alone, and in Western Australia, it is being seriously spruiked by the Australian Property Institute as ”Perth’s northernmost suburb”.

(Some new property owners actually pay their neighbours to keep farming rice to preserve their view.)

Farmers who have sold their land usually go to work in tourism, which puts even more reliance on the single industry that makes up 80 per cent of the island’s economy.

”We have a regional, provincial spatial plan to try to conserve rice fields and manage Bali as an organic Island,” says I Made Suanatha, ”but it’s not enforced … The system is not strong enough to make people not corrupt it. We have a lot of regulations but very little compliance.”

An example is the moratorium imposed in 2011 by the regional governor, I Made Pastika, on new hotel developments. It is routinely flouted by local governments, who have the power to give approval.

Most recently, a monstrous new 700-room hotel, the Mulia, has been built on a previously pristine Nusa Dua beach. Governor Pastika says they used an old permit and therefore did not breach the moratorium.

”Can you stop it?” asks Wirajaya Ida Bagus, the director of the state-owned enterprise the Bali Tourism Development Corporation, which is in charge of land in Nusa Dua. ”As long as there is a demand, of course [development will continue].”

Waste is another example of good rules, zero enforcement. If you fish in Bali, or surf, dive or go to the beach, you interact with it. Environment group Walhi says the tourism industry is responsible for the contamination of 13 beaches.

”It’s so dirty we can’t use the river,” Gusti Lanang Oka, a former fisherman from the east-coast Bali village of Kusamba told the Jakarta Post. ”If we swim we get itchy. The sea is contaminated and the fish are gone.”

Just a few kilometres to the south of the beaches of Kuta lies a noisome example. The 1300-hectare Tahura mangrove forest is one of the largest remaining in Asia and in 2009 it was also proclaimed Asia’s best. But like most things that lie on a waterway in Bali, it is now choking on piles of plastic, styrofoam, even dead animals, which are dumped illegally or swept down river.

According to a recent report, Bali’s 3.2 million residents and almost 3 million visitors produce 20,000 cubic metres of garbage every day. Of this, three-quarters is not collected by any service. Tonnes of it is then caught in the net-like roots of the mangrove trees.

Pak Sumadi is paid by the government to pick up and dispose of it. But he and his young helper, Gede Marada, are just two men, helpless against the tide.

”We clean up as much as possible from the river banks,” Sumadi says, ”but no one comes to collect it. So we burn it whenever it’s dry enough.”

His permanent cough is not because of the smoking plastic, he insists, but because of the smell.

Governor Pastika has proposed trying to manage the forest better by leasing 100 hectares, almost a 10th of it, to developer TRB to build a water park and accommodation. This has earned the ire of local environmental group, Walhi, which is suing him.

”Mangrove forest protects the island,” says Walhi chief Wayan ”Gendo” Suardana. ”It protects the sea from rubbish coming from the island. It protects Bali island from erosion, and the south of Bali has a 25-year cycle of tsunamis – the mangrove forest also protects Bali island from tsunamis.”

Gendo was beaten up by thugs recently and hospitalised. Asked if he was deliberately targeted over his activism, he says: ”They asked for me by name – what do you think?”

Tourism to Bali keeps growing at about 10 to 12 per cent per year, and not just from Australia. Internal visits from Indonesians are growing fast, as are arrivals from China and other Asian countries. The island is tipped to attract 3.1 million tourists this year.

The permanent population is also growing as immigrants from poorer parts of Indonesia flock to the island to take part in the tourism gold rush. But across the spectrum, people are saying that growth driven purely by demand is no longer sustainable.

”The tourism industry needs to be controlled,” environmentalist Gendo says.

”We are strongly against growth of accommodation numbers in the southern part of Bali,” says tourism board chairman Ngurah Wijaya. ”We’re suggesting a moratorium. We want people to come to Bali, but we want a better product.”

The governor is torn between growth and conservation: ”It is admitted that [the] southern part of Bali is full enough [of] tourism facilities,” he told Fairfax Media, but ”some hotels, tourism facilities and roads need to be built.”

The question is how to regulate the flow of tourists in a place where enforcement of any regulation is problematic. Pastika refers to ”local regulations, local values and environment impact analysis”, but admits that, under Indonesia’s ”regional autonomy” laws, the lower levels of government, known as the kabupaten, are in charge. They are often addicted to the dollars new development brings.

The more rubbish coats the reefs and mangroves and forces fishermen to abandon their nets, or water shortages and land prices make farming impossible, the more Bali’s culture and environment are degraded. Of the three routes to happiness, at least two are now under threat.

”We’re on a small, fragile island,” says I Made Suanatha. ”The next generation will curse us for developing like this.”

With Amilia Rosa