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Putting Food on Bali's Table

Agriculturalist Predict a Coming Food Crisis for Bali if Island Does Not Rediscover and Revitalize its Agricultural Roots

(1/27/2012) Bali's agricultural society is under threat. Not only are traditional farming lands being diverted to new uses, but the vocation of farming is increasingly being abandoned by the Balinese.

At the same time, Bali's traditional subak irrigation systems is also declining into disarray. As a result, agriculture in Bali is not being optimized. Adding to Bali's grief, prices for agricultural produce drops when Bali's brings its crops to market. All these factors, in the eyes of some agricultural experts, are foreshadowing a coming food crisis in Bali.

As reported in The Bali Post, the island is very dependent on food imports necessary to put food on the plates of visitors and residents alike. Professor Mertha, an agricultural expert from Bali's Udayana University, said on Thursday, January 26, 2012: "We must be proud of our ability to purchase food from other regions. Instead, we need to become self-sustaining in meeting Bali's food demands."

The respected agriculturalist, who was born in Tabanan, Bali, described how Bali has traditionally enjoyed a bountiful harvest. Yet, each year Bali is compelled to import tens of tons of rice and vegetables each day. According to Mertha, the failure to be self-sufficient in food needs to be resolved by taking definitive steps to protect and encourage farming on the island.

Among the steps that must be taken are urgent repairs of the current agricultural system. Agricultural extension services providing accurate and professional farming advice are needed to assist farmers in maximizing their crops with the latest farming techniques.

Professor Mertha complains that agriculture in Bali is alway consigned to a back seat position, with the welfare of farmers given little importance by the government. Supporting this view, the chairman of the Bali Agriculture Association (HKTI), Professor Nyoman Supartha, claims that the government's commitment to farming is more conceptual than real. "The government's programs to overcome agricultural problems is grounded in cliche. The government is too focussed on production, when in fact the farmers know how to grow crops," said Suparta.

Supartha's vision for agriculture includes support for agribusinesses, going beyond a limited focus on only the production of crops. To do this, the government in the future must develop and strengthen marketing systems for Bali produce. The Agriculture Department must cooperate with the Department of Trade and tourism stakeholders to ensure prices and markets are sustained. Branding programs are also needed to create a commitment to locally produced products.

An instructor in farming at the Warmadewa University, Dr. Ir. I Gusti Bagus Udayana, said the problem lies with the delicate nature of Bali's agriculture production, demanding technologies and transportation methods - all inter-related and necessary to strengthen the farming sector. The other problem of Bali's agriculture is the seasonal nature of the business, making sustainable year-round supply problematic.

Another agricultural educator, Drs. I Wayan Arjana, said the government needs to take concrete steps to save Bali's agriculture. He says preserving agricultural lands is a pressing problem that needs urgent attention from the government. Adding: "To date, efforts by the government to advance the agricultural sector remains mostly conceptual. There is still no program in place to raise up the farming sector. The change of use in former agricultural lands to other uses dominates the current situation."

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