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Bali needs to revitalize agricultural sector
May 30th, 2009

Rapid development of tourism and property projects threatens the existence of traditional villages and the centuries-old subak agricultural system the two strong pillars of Balinese society, a professor at Udayana University said.

Wayan Windia, a professor of agriculture, expressed his concern over the diminishing roles of subak, a traditional organization of local farmers responsible for the management of rice fields, irrigation and social and religious activities.

The growing need for tourist accommodation and supporting facilities has reduced the island’s rice paddies and plantations.

Currently, there are 1,599 subak organizations in Bali, although only 20 percent of them are still active.

Many farmers have been forced to give up their land for economic reasons. Many of them have found that agricultural activities no longer support their livelihood. Every year, Bali sees 800 hectares of productive land transformed into hotels, villas and supporting infrastructure.

The present agricultural system promoted by the central and provincial governments has diminished the bargaining power of local farmers.

By adopting the subak system, farmers received multiple benefits, the professor said. Subak not only regulates the distribution of water and seeds to its members, but gives farmers strong bargaining power to distribute their harvests and determine the price of their products.

Farmers would not have to worry about the absence of fertilizers or seeds because all members would be responsible for procuring them.

“All problems faced by farmers could be solved and discussed by members of the subak organization,” Windia said.

“Now, they have to go to the agricultural agency or the public works agency, which are usually slow to respond to farmers’ needs.”

The function of the subak system was halted by the local administration in the early l980s.

The local administration has provided Rp 20 million (US$2,000) per year to support every subak organization, but this has not prevented farmers from selling their land.

“The price of fertilizers and seeds were very high, while harvest yields were sold at very low prices,” Windia said.

“It was not fair for the government to ask farmers to keep their rice fields when they were too expensive to maintain,” Windia said.

Nyoman Budiana, another agricultural expert, said most farmers now faced water shortages and reduced farming land.

“They cannot produce the same amount of harvest because they work on very small plots of land,” Budiana said.

Most fertile rice field areas in Badung and Gianyar regencies are now surrounded by buildings that cut off water distribution.

Nyoman Suwirya Patra, head of the Bali Investment Coordinating Board suggested that local administrations invite more investors to work in the agricultural sector.

“Bali has a huge agricultural potential that has not been tapped and managed properly,” Patra said.

The island produces high quality cacao, salak (snakefruit), seaweed and many other commodities.

Investment plans in Bali are dominated by the property, tourism, textile and garment sectors. There was a total Rp 53 billion of approved investment in Bali in the first quarter of 2009.

To attract more investors to the agricultural sector, the office is now launching a promotional campaign, including a website containing information about the various agricultural potentialof Bali.

The provincial administration has spent Rp 320 million on the campaign.

I Wayan Ramantha, dean of the School of Economics at Udayana University supported the efforts, saying the campaign would enhance the island’s agriculture.

“We have to focus on investment in agricultural technology to properly develop this sector. Investment in tourism-related sectors has already matured,” Ramantha said.

“A wide gap between the tourism and agricultural sector could create both economic and social problems.”

Ramantha also urged local administrations to seriously shift their development preferences from tourism toward the agricultural sector.

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