The rising tide of conservation

At Top Indonesia Holidays we always keep our eyes and ears open for new trends and during the past week we separately learned of two new developments on Kalimantan and Bali, unrelated to each other, that lifted our spirits considerably.

The eruption of Mount Sinabung and the tragic loss of life on its slopes overshadowed everything else in the news, including floods and corruption scandals in Jakarta, so it was heartening to also hear of something positive: It appears there is growing awareness in our country that we have a collective duty to preserve both our natural and cultural heritage.

The first item was brought to us by Google and involved the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve adjacent to the Tanjung Puting National Park on Kalimantan. Rimba Raya is a project of Hong Kong based NGO InfiniteEARTH and by leveraging REDD+ carbon credits they managed to save over 640 square kilometers of peat swamp forest from the encroaching palm oil industry. It is the first forest carbon project in the world to receive triple-gold certification under the Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance Standard (CCBA).
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We were alerted to the second development by our esteemed colleague Jack Daniels of Bali Discovery Tours. It involves the Ubud based Sawah Bali Foundation. This nonprofit organization was established in 2013 and aims to help save Bali’s traditional landscape of rice paddies from voracious project developers and find a way towards greater economic security for farmers.

This does indeed address a major problem. As a result of rampant hotel and villa development during the past fifteen years Bali is now in the clutch of a real estate bubble. It has not only affected the physical landscape but changed the economics as well. Highly productive arable land got lost at an accelerated rate due to excessive building activities. High land prices tempted more and more farmers to sell their plots and villa developments in the middle of the rice-fields have disrupted the natural flow of water to downstream paddies, destroying the traditional Subak system that had been painstakingly perfected over hundreds of years.

The most glaring example is the area between Seminyak and Canggu where there were until about five years ago just some houses scattered between the rice fields. Nowadays it is the other way around: there are a few paddies between the buildings and in this suburban jungle of clashing architectural styles the rice fields are often dry. (Water use in hotels and villas far exceeds usage by Subak and traditional homes)

The agricultural land preservation method that the Sawah Bali Foundation introduces is modeled after a program that has been in place in the USA for over 40 years where the Vermont Land Trust successfully managed to protect the traditional family farms in that state against competing purposes.

In an initial pilot project just North of Ubud Sawah Bali is copying the same approach. Farmers in the Subak of Malung Bulu Jauk, whose only asset is usually their inherited land, are now offered financial compensation and receive annuity payments to continue farming the land. In exchange they surrender the right to sell their land for other than agricultural use in perpetuity. However they do retain full ownership and may sell their plot to other farmers or pass it on to their children.

In addition Sawah Bali cooperates with IDEP, the Indonesian Development and Education of Permaculture Foundation, to provide the farmers with technical assistance to raise their income by switching to organic farming methods, integrated pest management and traditional rice varieties.

We warmly applaud this scheme to save the landscape. We also realize that a healthy agricultural sector brings many benefits to society other than just food production: economic vitality, stable households and communities.

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