Agriculture, particularly rice farming, is strongly linked to Bali’s social, cultural, and religious way of life. Subak, the water irrigation system on which the rice cycle is based, was introduced in Bali over a thousand years ago. As early as the 9th century, some inscriptions referred to irrigation water tunnels and canal builders that worked to supply the much-needed water throughout Bali from the mountain lakes. Over the centuries, these builders have honeycombed the island with their tunnels and terraces. This system, for the irrigation of rice fields, is the bedrock of Balinese agriculture and, by extension, Balinese life.

A complex social system has evolved around temples, local rulers, and farming communities. Water temple priests who practice Tri Hita Karana Philosophy, a self-described balanced relationship between Humans, the Earth, and the Gods, are in charge of this traditional ecologically sustainable system. 

First phase of farming program

The Use of Subak Irrigation

However, much of the traditional agricultural system, including the Subak, has shifted significantly since the Green Revolution. With intensive usage of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the rice yield increased from 2 crops yearly to 3. Yet that productivity has damaged soil, the environment, and the wider ecological system, pushing the farmers to be highly dependent on chemical inputs.

The high nitrogen content in chemical fertilisers is unnecessary due to Bali’s soil being rich in mineral nutrients. The excess fertiliser runs into rivers and ultimately into the sea, destroying offshore corals. Steven Lansing, an American anthropologist, has studied this situation since 1985.

Launch on Farming Program

In January 2022, Begawan launched its farming program with the goal to establish productive, regenerative agriculture in Bayad, a neighbourhood close to our office and to our breeding centre. We have three main objectives: to assist local farmers in making the shift to regenerative agriculture practices, to educate people about the importance of agriculture and how it can serve them better, and to work with farmers to produce quality agricultural products with a higher value and profit return. Our farming program includes regenerative rice farming, organic gardens, livestock, poultry, aquaculture, beekeeping, butterfly and insect farming, vermiculture, and composting.

The first initiative of the farming program at Begawan is to convert a rice field area of 4,290 m2, from hybrid rice to the production of organic rice, planting Balinese heritage rice, using only natural fertilisers and pest control. One field at a time, one farmer at a time. Stage 1 began with the delivery of 20.5 tons of natural compost to the rice fields to regenerate the soil, degraded by the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

A subsurface filter for the Subak water entering the rice fields to filter the chemical substance carried from upstream has been installed. The seed nursery is in process, and it will soon be time to plant the first small seedlings that will be harvested in May or June. (Sintia Dewi)

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