Bali’s Starving Farmers worse than Beggars

Small Balinese farm

Small Balinese farm

I know that one of the idioms when visiting countries with a certain population of beggars is to not give them anything as it only encourages them. However on Bali there is a serious issue with the viability of most of the local farming communities.

So if you are travelling in Bali’s beautiful agricultural areas, spare a thought, and maybe a few Rupiah, for those local farmers you meet.

The most disheartening news is that while agriculture remains Bali’s oldest and largest industry, those who work in this sector are also the poorest people on the island.

Behind the idyllic and iconic rice terraces exists a large underclass of Balinese who are living well below the poverty line. This line is the benchmark separating those with enough to eat and the ability to obtain the basic necessities, from those who cannot afford even the essentials of daily life.

A noted academic, Wayan Windia has been quoted as saying that the living standard of many Balinese farmers is below that enjoyed by roadside beggars living on the island.

Adding to the plight of Bali’s “planting class” are the increasing loss of agricultural lands being turned to residential and tourist pursuits, rising property taxes, increasingly uncertain weather patterns, frequent plagues of rodents and pestilence, and recent seasons when the crop failed to come in at all.

Professor Windia contends that a beggar can earn Rp. 2 million (US$217) per month while a Balinese farmer working a hectare of land would be lucky to net half that amount.

Windia sees the current state of Bali’s farmers as highly ironic, causing a situation where famers are selling off their lands rather than try to pay impossible land tax burdens.

The professor estimates 1,000 hectares of agricultural land is being converted to other uses each year on Bali. Even more alarming, Windia sees the breakdown in the subak system of irrigation resulting from land diversion as having the ripple effect of rendering adjoining tracts of land unproductive. Because of this, he believes Bali will soon see 2,000 hectares of land become unusable for agriculture each year.

He claims that the blame for this unfortunate state of affairs can be squarely put to Bali’s government who are failing to regulate and preserve the island’s agricultural character.

He also cites as being to blame the ease with which developers can obtain permits and licenses from government agencies with little or no concern by these officials for the damage caused to traditional irrigation systems.

In order to remedy this situation, Windia calls on the government to protect agricultural lands through stronger regulations and introduce tax reductions for land dedicated to farming.

In a follow up to the above article, the provincial government of Bali has promised to prepare rules and regulations to protect and conserve agricultural lands.

These policies will form part of the follow up to the recent acknowledgement of Bali’s ancient subak irrigation system by the United Nations (UNESCO) as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

The head of Bali’s cultural service, Ketut Suastika, told the press that the protection of agricultural lands used for subak irrigation forms only one part of a larger plan to protect farming on the island. He added that a management board was now being established to evaluate and preserve the Subak sites.

The provincial government is also planning to create incentives to support those living within the subak area designated by UNESCO.

Suastika discussed that farmers living in the subak area should be free from property taxes, wondering out loud if the funds to replace these taxes might be raised from the tourist industry.

If you have any comments about Bali’s struggling farmers, please reply below.

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