Bali farmer discovers benefits of going organic

The Jakarta Post, July 20, 2007

Anton Muhajir, Contributor, Tabanan

When I Gede Hanjaya’ wife Franziska Rapp was suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer, her doctor suggested she undergo surgery and avoid foods with chemical additives.

Hanjaya, a successful garment manufacturer, changed his life to do so. Leaving his business, he developed an organic farming site in his hometown of Tabanan regency, around 70 kilometers west of Denpasar.

“I wanted to produce healthy food for my family,” he said.

For the last 10 years, Hanjaya and his family have consumed fresh, chemical- and pesticide-free produce, with good results.

“My wife was diagnosed as free from breast cancer after leading a more healthy lifestyle,” he said.

Working with his brother Gede Nengah Arnaya, he began digging a water tunnel to irrigate his 1.5-hectare rice field early in 1998.

“Developing organic farming requires and extra effort and more patience,” Nengah said.

After Bali adopted the “green revolution” in its agricultural practices in the early 70s, local farmers were used to applying large amounts of pesticides and various chemical fertilizers to boost their crop yields.

At first the results were encouraging, but after a while the excessive use of chemicals began to show in long-term environmental and social problems on the island.

Researched conducted by Udayana University’s school of agriculture showed that the majority of plantation areas and rice fields were chemically polluted. As the island’s soil quality decreased, so did its rice yields.

Hanjaya, a graduate of the university, started out planting his land with a special type of seed, known as SRI.

“They did not work in an area with high humidity and rainfall,” he said.

Friends suggested he use a local species of seed that was more suitable for the local soil and thus needed fewer chemicals.

“By using natural fertilizer, we can protect the soil from pollution,” he said, adding that organic farming helped maintain the ecological balance.

“Using excessive pesticides and chemical fertilizers has killed the insects, worms, snakes, frogs, actually needed to maintain natural cycles,” he explained.

“Mother nature has regulated it all. We don’t need to take other creatures’ lives for our own benefit.”

The frequent use of chemicals across the island has drastically cut its harvests, with the average yield from 1.5 hectares of rice fields now only about 900 kilograms.

It has also changed local farming social values.

Traditionally, all Balinese farmers were members of the Subak organization, which encouraged traditional agricultural and irrigation techniques, along with a cohesive social system.

The green revolution saw farmers become more self-oriented due to the mechanization of the process.

After 10 years of organic farming, Hanjaya says his work has been a success.

“Many farmers previously felt pessimistic about applying organic farming, questioning the use of natural fertilizers,” he said. “They didn’t believe that natural fertilizers could increase their harvests.”

Local farmers are beginning to follow Hanjaya’s lead and have established a new organization in the mold of Subak, Carik Tangis, or “the crying rice field”.

The farmers are working to reinvigorate the traditional Balinese agricultural world, which emphasized ecological, social, cultural and religious balances.

“The green revolution took out age-old traditions, which respected the harmony between humans and nature, and turned them upside down,” Hanjaya said.

“Our forefathers adopted the most suitable agricultural concept (for the island) which actually protected our environmental balances, but the modern farmers left it for the sake of increasing their harvests and at the end of the day, destroying nature.”

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