Urban Agriculture in Bali

This post is all about the idea of premiering urban agriculture in Bali. Everyone knows that Bali is in itself a product of thriving agrarian culture. The grand scale of paddy terracing and subak irrigation all around Bali confirm it. Those are hereditary knowledge and wisdom that begin to fade from day-to-day business of common Balinese in urban and peri-urban areas. Maybe, promoting and encouraging urban agriculture will bring out that farmer inside of us again.

In its heyday, the harvests of Bali’s most productive rice baskets in Tabanan, Gianyar and Badung Regencies were able to sustain the needs of its respective people. Today, I doubt that. I even doubt the ability of modern farmer to sculpture beautiful yet functional paddy’s bed terracing of Jatiluwih and Tegal Alang’s caliber. From chatting with my farmer neighbor, I learned that out of hundreds of Balinese farmers left in Berawa area where I live, only a handful still know how to use the star as the guidance of determining the planting season.

Urban Agriculture

It’s an agriculture in every sense of that word, where the aspect of place or setting (urban and peri-urban areas, hence the name) plays dominant role in the  practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food.

This is a system that takes form in a lot varieties, as extreme as New York’s rooftop farming and England’s Incredible Edible Project to as simple as planting your own lemongrass in small pots at your kitchen table or planting your garden with edible plants.

Urban agriculture is driven by many motives, food producing activities, green-living principles, entrepreneurship, spiritual and ethical values and so on. Many also connect it with artistry, since many of its pioneering activities involve artists-in-residence in that particular area, such as the one takes place in my home city, in Yogyakarta.

Gardening and farming is not for everyone (those with bad back is one, and lazy people like me for another), but there’s something satisfying and almost spiritual about growing your own food. This is a huge selling point. The fact that it interests a lazy noob like me shows why this would be a success.

Furthermore, fifty percent of people coming to, or living in, Bali is all about green-living, organic-eating, yoga-practicing, anti-plastic-bagging (another 50% is divided between  bogans and party animals with bogan mentality). The theme of growing your own food certainly goes really well with such a crowd, including those coming straight from Gilbertian mold (after the author of Eat, Pray, Love).

In time, this movement could give rise to local markets (flea market and farmer market) and encourages local sub-culture.It will augment the quality and principle of existing hospitality industry in Bali. Farmer (or ‘urban farmer’) can sell their products directly to nearby restaurants and hotels. Hotels and restaurants, in turn,  can serve the freshest (organic) vegetables and fruits to its customers. This is a practice that will empower local farmer and local communities beyond the conventional corridor of cultivating and selling the harvests to third party; enrich the food supplies through crops and fruits diversification; creating jobs and thus improving economy; and also push down carbon printing created in the delivery of the goods in conventional distribution.

Why I Think It’s Good for Bali?

Although Bali has a vast farm land of 81,744 hectares, it merely constitutes 14.5% of the island’s size. How much will be left in 10 years, 20 years or 50 years to come?

Bali’s small size, compared to other major islands in Indonesia, in my perspective, is a signal that it’s meant to sustain itself without relying heavily on other sources. Encouraging urban agriculture will impact the locals immensely in positive ways. This could put a stop to the heavy consumption of imported fruits (for banten or ceremony offerings) many have complained about (link in bahasa).

It will create job. Yeah, I know I already said that… it’s just to show how important this part is. Communities and individuals could get a burst of positive economic windfall in the long terms through the sales of the products or any other related activities.

Let’s face it. Bali is in dire need of something else other than scenery and culture to support its tourism industry. Agro and eco-tourisms may be just that and urban agriculture is certainly one of its gateway to both.

What I like the most about urban agricultural movement is its potential to attract as many supporters despite their social background. United in the same passion, namely to grow their own food,  photo models, daily-paid tukangs, lawyers, graphic designers and real estate agents can all work together in a self-food-producing community.

It’s also amazing to know how many domains it will affect in the long run: permaculture, architecture and engineering (for example to build a multi-story urban garden or placing 3 tons worth of soil to a rooftop, for rooftop farming), organic foods, land usage, contemporary arts (making urban farms & gardens can become the goals and objective of artist-in-residency program) and so on. Not to mention the potential innovations it can contribute to those domains.

Urban Agriculture in Bali

The time is ripe to make such movement in Bali. The time is ripe for Bali to have its own edible community gardens. Actually I’m a bit surprised knowing that this idea still hasn’t reverberated loud enough throughout the island as I believe it should be, especially with the kind of crowds I mentioned above. (Or it has, and I’m just too oblivious to see?).

Our company believe in the motto of “Everything starts with good advice.” Well, here’s one: start food-gardening, now! It’s just a matter of time before this become a universal movement around the world. And Bali, whose cultural landscape and subak system have been acknowledged as the World’s Heritage by UNESCO will be more than perfect as the central of such movement.

Where to Start?

Start with your own place. Working as a real estate agent, I’ve seen many villas whose land usage inside the property is, well, boring and bland… no color variation, no imagination and no use other than as mosquitoes’ nest. Why don’t such corner turned into an edible garden of chilies, lemongrass, sweet-smelled pandan or tomatoes? Why don’t that corner turned into your private spice and herb lab, that you or your neighbor can use while experimenting with the traditional Indonesian cuisines?

Don’t have the skills? Ask the expert like these fine fellows at Permablitz Bali. They incorporate urban agriculture into somewhat fun collective activities in the spirit of sustainability, green-living and the very Indonesian spirit of gotong-royong (mutual cooperation).

With more and more individuals attracted to liven up urban agriculture in Bali each day, communities will be formed, and they in turn will grow into bigger and bigger unit toward social integration until it reaches a point that’s able to make a huge positive impact to the to Bali, both environmentally and socially.

One Last Thing

It is implied that the one who should be benefited the most by this agricultural movement is the locals. A local culture is not a local movement without the involvement of the locals (There, three “locals” each with different contextual meaning. Damn. I’m good!)

So I guess it’s safe to say that the first objective of this movement should be empowering the locals. This can be achieved by incorporating create, collaborate and educate approaches. In fact, this is a movement where everyone involved is expected to  do those approaches in a continuous cycle.

So, let’s embrace any idea toward promoting urban agriculture in Bali.
I plant, therefore I am!

For further reading: Resources Centre for Urban Farming and Food Security