Water, insect woes burden farmers

Anton Muhajir, Contributor,  Tabanan | Tue, 10/28/2008 10:27 AM | Bali

The farmers of Jatiluwih are facing hardship as their crops are destroyed not only by the wereng insect and a mystery disease, but as water springs around the village dry up.

Lying on the northern tip of Tabanan, Jatiluwih is one of the island’s main rice producers, with more than 300 hectares of rice fields. The vast landscape of beautifully terraced paddies also makes Jatiluwih, some 60 kilometers north of the island’s capital Denpasar, one of Bali’s main tourist attractions.

One of the local farmers, I Wayan Sukabuana, said conditions began to change around three years ago.

“Three years ago the water springs started producing less water than before,” he said.

Sukabuana, who is the former head of Jatiluwih customary village, identified Candi Kuning and Tukad Yeh Pusih as two local subaks (traditional irrigation associations) that have suffered due to the decreasing water supply.

“Sometimes the water’s flow is so small that it fails to reach the rice fields,” he said.

Naturally, the rice field, which needs a constant supply of water, dries up and turns into a plot of infertile, cracked land. This generally results in a dismal harvest or complete crop failure.

“I have 40 ares of rice fields and now 39 of them yield no harvest, because of the lack of water,” he said.

“Denpasar has recently suffered flooding due to a prolonged period of heavy rain, but here not a single drop of rain has fallen.”

He then took The Jakarta Post into a patch of land near his house. Corn plants filled one area and wild grass cluttered the remaining site.

“The local farmers had never planted corn before, but now you can see for yourself (that they plant corn to adapt to the decreasing water supply),” he said.

Another farmer, Wayan Sumiata, admitted the lack of water had never taken place before. The problem had worsened, he disclosed, to the level that it began to affect the water supply for the villagers’ domestic needs, including drinking and cooking.

“We used to receive water from a pipeline that channeled it from the water springs. Nowadays, we have to take water from the rivers,” he said.

Both Sukabuana and Sumiata admitted they had no knowledge of the causes of the water’s decreasing flow.

Yet, they fully understand the irony of the current situation. Jatiluwih lies on the slope of Mount Batukaru. The lush tropical forest around the mountain is one the island’s few remaining water catchment areas.

Jatiluwih has never before experienced a lack of water, especially not for rice field irrigation. The village is used to a very wet rainy season, with rain falls almost on a daily basis and sometimes even twice a day.

“Probably (the decreasing water supply) is caused by several major projects being constructed around Batukaru,” Sumiata said.

He referred to the construction of a geothermal power plant in Bedugul at the other side of the mountain.

The construction of the power plant has drawn a continuous wave of criticism from the island’s environmental activists and intellectuals, who fear that it would damage water reserves since it involves a series of deep drilling in order to tap the area’s geothermal heat to power the plant’s generators.

On the other hand, the Pekaseh (head of subak) Jatiluwih, I Wayan Puja, refuted Sukabuana’s and Sumiata’s statements that the village was experiencing a lack of water supply.

“All four water springs are still in normal condition, there hasn’t been any decrease in water flow,” he said.

Each of the water springs had an average flow of 318 liters per second.

“I have just measured the flow two days ago,” he said on Saturday.

The only problem the local farmers had, according to Puja, was related to the introduction of 64 Serang, a new variety of rice to substitute for Cendana, the local variety usually planted by the farmers.

Unlike Cendana, which only needs organic fertilizers, 64 Serang requires a heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticide.

“The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides eventually damages our land,” I Nyoman Mariasam, one farmer, said.

Despite the heavy use of chemicals, the new variety remains vulnerable to diseases and insects. The wereng insect, as well as a disease which destroys the plant’s leaves, have inflicted heavy damage on the crops. The harvest’s yield has decreased to four tons per hectare, down from the previous six to seven tons per hectare.


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