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Baliís Farmers Go Begging

Are Baliís Farmers Worse Off than Street Beggars?

(5/25/2012) Bisnis Bali relays the disheartening news 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 an entire large underclass of Balinese living well below the poverty line, the economic benchmark separating those with enough to eat and obtain the basic necessities of life from those without the essential wherewithal’s of daily life.

Bisnis Bali goes so far, in fact, as to quote academic Wayan Windia as saying that the living standard of many Balinese famers 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.

The leading academician from Bali’s Udayana University, Professor Dr. I Wayan Windia, contends the cascading woes of the island’s farmers is linked to insignificant income levels; lower, he contends, than that earned by roadside beggars. He 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 see the current state of Bali’s farmers as highly ironic, fueling a situation where famers are selling off their lands rather than face unbearable land tax burdens.

The professor estimates 1,000 hectares of agricultural lands are diverted to other uses each year in Bali. Even more alarming, Windia sees the breakdown in the subak system of irrigation resulting from land diversion 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 lost to agriculture each year.

Windia lays the blame for this unfortunate state of affairs squarely at the feet of 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 reference or no concern by official 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 tax reductions for lands dedicated to farming pursuits.