There was a time when most of the inhabitants of Bali island were farmers. Not just the ordinary farmer, but they have a special skill in agriculture. The history of Bali’s agriculture can be traced back to an early age. Archaeologists found the ancient agricultural tools buried from the past in the village of Sembiran, one of the old villages in Bali. The practice of farming in ancient Balinese society can be found in an inscription dating back to 882. Supratikno Raharjo in “Cultural History of Bali” book as quoted by Historia magazine mentioned that in the “Sukawana Inscription” the word huma (which means rice) was found.
Since mountains stretched from the East to the West in the middle of the island, naturally the topography of Bali island mostly hilly land. For planting rice, a farmer needs flat ground for puddle for seeding and sow. Bali farmer conquers this situation by creating terracing.
Yet another important element for planting rice is water and it must be shared evenly. So the good management of irrigation is a must. For this (irrigation system) Bali has its unique irrigation system called Subak, which was found hundreds of years ago. Water management for rice field is found in the Trunyan Inscription dated back in 891. There is the word serdanu (which means chief of lake water affair) in the inscription. This means that Bali had water management for the rice field at that time. In the “Bebetin Inscription” (896) and the “Batuan Inscription” (1022) it even explains that there are three groups of special workers related to rice fields, one of them is undagi pangarung with specialized / expertise in making water tunnels. This word (undagi pengarung) is still used in modern subak organizations so that Raharjo can draw conclusions that subak has existed since the end of the 9th century.
In the book “Subak”, written by Ketut Setiawan, the author considers the word Subak as a modern form of the word suwak, derived from two words “su” and “wak “. Su means good and wak means irrigation so it can be interpreted that suwak is a good irrigation system. The uniqueness of Bali’s irrigation system, known as the subak, is truly extraordinary and has even been recognized as one of the world’s cultural heritages recorded by UNESCO.
But as time goes by, the farmer now facing a difficult situation. Not only because of the lack of support from the government but also less and few of the young generation of Bali who is willing to continue the profession of their parents: as a farmer. In the eyes of young people, being a farmer is heavy and not prestigious and it also gives very little income. It takes about 4 months for the rice to grow and ready to harvest. The farmer will get 9 tons of rice for 1 hectare rice field. 1 kilo of rice is Rp 5.000,- so for every hectare of the rice field, the farmers will get Rp 45.000.000,- for 1 time planting period / 4 months. Overhead cost for 1 hectare is about Rp 10 million. So the farmer will earn Rp 35.000.000,- nett for 4 months or about Rp 8.750.000,- / month for 10.000 square meters of rice field. It’s very little money, isn’t it?! And actually, the averages of a farmer who owns the rice field in Ubud mostly less than 30 ares (1 hectare is 100 are). For sure, with that amount of money, they cannot earn enough money to support the family’s needs.
The rapid development of tourism opens up many new jobs and opportunities and the income derived from working in the tourism sector seems to be more promising so that it is more attractive to young people. If agriculture is abandoned, rice fields will certainly dry up. Gradually it will be converted into accommodation, restaurants, shopping places, etc. to support the tourism industry whereas farming and rice field is one of the things that Bali offers for tourism. Rice fields have been one of the attractions for tourists. The beauty of the terracing rice field with the background of the gloom of the mountains that stand firm in the distance has made many people fall in love with Bali. Farmers’ activities, from planting to harvest time, giving “life” into the rice field of Bali.
Rice field in Bali is not merely about just a ‘visual beauty’ or as land for food sources only. Rice fields of Bali are part of the culture and rice fields are the culture itself. Many religious rituals with a strong implementation with nuances of customs and traditions are part of the Balinese rice fields and farmers. So if the rice field does not exist anymore we can be sure that some religious ceremonies and traditions related to rice fields will disappear as well as it is not related anymore.
Religious rituals such as the biyu kukung, a kind of thanksgiving ceremony to the almighty God, the creator of life-giving, certainly would not exist without rice fields. The art of lelakut (scarecrow) and sunari (an object that makes noise to chase away the bird), will also disappear. So for Bali, the loss of rice fields also means losing some of the related cultural stuff that existed for hundreds of years ago.
Considering the importance of rice fields in the Bali culture, we hope stakeholders of Bali (the government and people of Bali) will pay more attention to the existence of the Bali rice field and support the Bali farmer as well.