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Bali Agriculture at the Crossroads

Farm Lands and Agricultural Workers - Do They have a Place in Bali's Future?

(3/19/2011) Each year the amount of agricultural land in Bali continues to decline with thousands of hectares converted to other purposes.

Rapid growth in Bali's tourism sector is a major cause of Bali's loss of farming land. Hira Jhamtami of the Third World Network in Nusa Dua told Bisnis Bali, "Farming land being changed to non-agricultural pursuits is increasing in Bali, mostly to meet development demands for housing developments and other industries – such as tourism."

Hira says Bali's agricultural products have a worldwide reputation. Bali rice is famous across the nation; considered by many to be the best in Indonesia. Bali farming products, such as oranges, mangosteens and other horticulture products are similarly prized.

While farming lands are under pressure from competing sectors of the economy in Bali, the future viability of agricultural work on the island is further threatened by a diminished interest among the younger generation to work in this sector.

Hira said that in the period from 2005 until 2010 Bali lost 5,206 hectares of productive agricultural lands.

Hira added that farmers in Bali are also greatly discouraged by the growing water crisis in Indonesia. A report by the Ministry of the Environment shows that from 1995, when Bali was experiencing a water deficit of 1.5 billion cubic meters a year, the annual deficit increased to 7.5 cubic meters by 2000. Experts estimate that the deficit will increase even further to 27.6 cubic meters by 2015.

"The agricultural sector in Bali is under threat and sits at the crossroads. Like the old saying: ‘bored with life, but unwilling to die' - this situation needs serious attention from the government who must make a master plan and introduce a moratorium on the conversion of agricultural lands in order to guarantee the future continuity of farming in Bali," explained Hira.

The chairman of the Association of Indonesian Farmers (HKTI), Professor Sr. Ir. Nyoman Supartha, does not disagree with the characterization that farming in Bali is at a crossroads. The shrinkage of farming lands continues on an annual basis. In 2008, the estimate of farming land under cultivation was put at 82,000 hectares. By 2010 the amounts of arable land had shrunk to 80,000 hectares. Supartha said a proper balance must be struck between the three economic pillars of Bali's economy, which are tourism, industry and agriculture. He also urged that complementary linkages be formed to create a multiplier effect for agriculture. Tourism and industry must be encouraged to purchase the products created by Bali farmers.

Supartha called on the government to tighten controls on the conversion of farming lands and provide tax relief to order farmers so they can continue to till the soil.