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Farming: PURE AND SIMPLE - Jakarta Post
Last modified: 2010-03-18 20:30:45

Higher-yield farming with GMO seeds, chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides lured Balinese farmers away from traditional methods that were healthier for consumers and for the Earth. Now Bali is experiencing a renaissance in chemical-free methods.

Organic produce and rice has become trendy, according to Sayu of IDEP, based in Ubud. Sayu, who runs IDEP's permaculture programs, says organic methods are catching on through local efforts to educate farmers on the benefits of growing chemical-free crops. Farmers get their hands dirty through training at IDEP's demonstration farm.

"With a whiteboard and laptop, the farmers are like..." she makes a bored, blank face. "So here we've made a small demonstration site. When farmers come here, we train them through hands-on activities."

Tough times brought on by the Asian financial crisis in 1998 prompted IDEP to roll out permaculture education. The idea is that training farmers to make natural compost saves them the onerous burden of expensive chemical fertilizers by using the rich resources they already have at hand.

Almost all farmers in Bali keep cows, and their manure makes the best fertilizer. Traditionally, farmers burn cow manure, which dissipates the nitrogen that makes for rich fertilizer. As more farmers learned to make solid organic fertilizer from manure, the price of manure has increased over the past two years, Sayu says.

More farmers are turning to organic compost after the government last year cut the subsidies for chemical fertilizers, which are now increasingly difficult to find and expensive when available. Solid compost usually takes three months to produce, but liquid compost can be made in as few as 10 days. IDEP's goal for 2010 is to get all farmers in Bali to return to organic compost, Sayu says.

Permaculture also promotes saving seeds and using natural pesticides....

Local organic farmer Gede Green started his own organic farm, called Bali Rungu, in the highlands near Bedugul four years ago, after receiving training at IDEP and the Green Hand Field School in Aceh. His business improved as he began making contacts to supply restaurants and a local supermarket, and he now employs five people at his farm.

"Marketing is my biggest challenge," Gede tells me at the organic farmers' market in Ubud. He makes the trip here three times a week to deliver organic produce to local restaurants and take part in the organic market held from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every Wednesday at ARMA and Saturday at Pizza Bagus in Pengosekan.

The growing popularity of organic food has inspired more farmers in Bali to adopt organic methods, but it has also bred imposters. Sayu is concerned that some businesses are marketing their patently chemically grown produce as organic. IDEP is working with other NGOs in Bali to study how to educate consumers about identifying genuine organic foods and rooting out the fakes. Smell and taste are good indicators.

"If you eat [organic and chemically grown varieties] at the same time, they're very different," Sayu says.

In addition to seeds, sunlight and fertilizer, clean water is crucial to growing organic rice and other produce.

A subak is a uniquely Balinese concept, a farmers' group to manage water resources. In one subak, 20 or more farmers share a common water source, usually a river, that is diverted to individual family farms through smaller channels, forming a life-giving stream much like the arteries of a body. Individual channels eventually flow out to each farm.

Simple, natural water filters of gravel and water hyacinth can improve water quality for an entire subak. A small fishpond acts as a biological indicator to determine the water's purity...

Oded is convinced Bali's farmers can make more money in the long run if they switch to organic. He welcomes more competition because it signals more farmers are adopting organic farming methods.

"Strangely enough, we've never had to spray anything on our garden, not even organic sprays against pests," he says. "We don't have a pest problem."

He credits this to harmony with nature. Though so much of his land is cultivated, many small patches are left wild, peppered throughout the rice paddies. Bugs, birds and snakes maintain the balance of nature, keeping the natural food chain intact.

"We try to adopt the principles of permaculture," Oded explains. "You don't exploit the soil, you don't deplete the soil; you enrich the soil. So every time you plant something in it, you actually make the soil richer rather than poorer."

It takes about five years, he goes on, to detoxify rice paddies that have been farmed using chemicals.

Organic farming is more expensive mostly because it requires more work and more time. The whole trial-and-error process also adds to the cost of operations like Sari Organik, while the global economic recession is taking its own toll. IDEP, which relies on private funding, had to cut its staff in 2009 from 35 to 23. Still, organic advocates in Bali are hopeful their methods will continue to catch on, to the benefit of everyone's health.

Jakarta Post WEEKENDER Sun, 02/07/2010 Read the complete article

Keywords: Jakarta Post, Farming, permaculture, Gede Green, Bali Rungu, Oded, IDEP, Sari Organic
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