Anton Muhajir, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar | Thu, 01/08/2009 10:36 AM | Bali
In the face of rising agriculture costs and the declining value of crops, once prosperous farmers like Rini Suryani are struggling to earn a sufficient income.
Toiling over 45-acres of farmland in Renon, East Denpasar, she spends around Rp 2.1 million in costs to produce a harvest every three to four months valued at between 100,000 per acre and 150,000 per acre, depending on the quality of the season.
Fertilizer costs her around Rp 1,680,000 while a tractor is valued at around Rp 450,000.
“That doesn’t include the cost of pesticides and the help I hire to clean up the weeds,” Rini said last weekend.
“The money I make from farming just doesn’t cover the costs anymore. In fact I lose too much. That’s why my husband also works as a laborer.”
On top of all the rising costs, Rini must also pay the landowner Rp 4.5 million for every harvest of crops.
These conditions reflect the hardship endured by many of Denpasar’s farmers who are struggling against the rising cost of farming and the declining price of crops.
Consequently, many farmers have begun hanging up their tools and searching for new sources of income.
According to data from the Bali Agricultural Agency, there were nearly 81,000 hectares of arable land in Bali as of 2006, down from 81,200 hectares in 2005 and 82,000 hectares in 2004.
Many farmers, it seems, are less inclined to keep farming, preferring instead to sell their land as real estate prices soar.
In Renon, where a cluster of Bali’s administrative buildings stand, the construction of roads, schools, cafes and restaurants lend themselves to a hike in real estate prices. Land in Renon can sell for up to Rp 300 million per acre.
“Ten years ago, this area was all farms,” Suryani said.
An additional problem for farmers working within the city, such as in Renon, Kesiman, Peguyangan and other districts, is that the construction of roads and buildings is increasingly blocking waterways and irrigation flows to land and in turn crops.
“It’s so hard to get water now. Back then they used to flow on their own,” said Wayan Artha, a farmer who works a 30-acre plot next to the Ngurah Rai Bypass in Kesiman, East Denpasar.
Artha said he had since changed his crops from paddy to corn, which required less water. Even with the change, access to the water source in Mambal district, Badung, seemed to be drying out, forcing Artha and other farmers in the area to rotate the irrigation system.
“We have to share so that everyone gets some water,” he said, adding he can only water his crops twice per week now.
I Nyoman Sutawan, a professor at the Udayana University agriculture faculty in Bali, said farming land had dramatically decreased from 30 years ago when Bali harvested around 120,000 hectares of land.
“It’s an incredibly fast rate of depreciation, especially in areas near large cities, and farmers are being forced to spend more to keep up with the high cost of living,” he said.
Sutawan said the government was being indecisive concerning the matter, offering no clear policies or solutions on farming.
“Up until now, the development of the agricultural sector remained only as indefinite plans. The government is still prioritizing tourism and industry as their number one projects,” he said.
The cost of this delay is leading to the decline of Bali’s traditional irrigation systems and the hike in costs of domestic crops due to a decrease in supply.
“With the declining number of farms, the number of subak, a traditional and precious agricultural artform, is also fading in Bali,” he said.
Subak is a term that stands for the organization as well as the traditional irrigation method. Subak has been praised as one of the most advanced irrigation systems in the world.
Sutawan said by 1989 there were nearly 1,500 subak systems in Bali, down from 1,750 in 1980. While the Agricultural Agency claims there are 1,600 subak in operation at the moment, Sutawan has his doubts.
“The agency has not been transparent in explaining how they collected the data,” he said.
The number of successful harvests has also taken a hit in recent years, as well as the raw amount of crops produced annually.
“In effect, we end up dependent on imported crops,” Sutawan said.
He urged the Balinese government to set a clear agenda on developing Bali’s agricultural sector as it provided the most employment in the province.
One method being put forward is to set specific agriculture zones and include farmers in the process. Another is to offer loans to farmers so they can buy land as opposed to working for rented land where taxes have a significant impact.
Sutawan argued these approaches would not only help the economy but also maintain the environment through allowing farms and water bodies to naturally absorb toxic gases and convert them into oxygen.