Have you ever wondered Who are Balinese Farmers? Rice fields in Bali

Have you ever wondered Who are Balinese Farmers?

You might have seen them in Ubud or by the rice fields. Balinese farmers are a big workforce but discrete and reserved. I’ve always been curious to know more about them. I would see them working at the back of hotels in the fields wearing the biggest smiles ever. Sometimes I see them bathing in the river whilst I’m on the scooter. If that has happened to you as well and want to know more about them. This blog post is for you!

The Role of Farming in Balinese Society

Agriculture holds a special place in Balinese traditions and rituals. It’s not just about growing crops; it’s woven into the very fabric of their community. From religious ceremonies to daily practices, farming plays a pivotal role in shaping the Balinese way of life. Especially if we talk about rice farmers. Rice is not only used for food but also for daily rituals and ceremonies.

Social classes in Bali

Have you ever wondered Who are Balinese Farmers? Local community at the temple in Ubud

In order to talk about farmers, we need to take a look at the societal makeup of Bali. Like many other places, Bali has its system of social stratification. The Balinese caste system, known as “Bali Aga”, originally had four levels, though it’s not as rigid or all-pervasive as it might sound. The majority of Balinese belong to the Sudra, the lowest caste, which covers 93% of Bali’s population, and would also include farmers. Then there’s the Wesia, the merchant class, followed by the Ksatria, the warrior and ruling class, and at the top, the Brahmans who are the priests and honour scholars. But here’s the thing, you won’t be able to tell someone’s caste just by looking at them or talking to them. It’s just not something that defines everyday interactions among the Balinese. So, while it does exist, it’s more about tradition and less about social hierarchy.

Why do we talk about social classes? Because farmers are strictly connected to Brahmans, the priests. How? Through the calendar!

The Farmers’ Calendar

In Bali, farming follows a traditional agricultural calendar which is structured by the local priest. The calendar will dictate when to be planting rice, when to collect it and other details related to farming. The rituals around rice farming are interwoven into Balinese culture, with ceremonies held before planting and harvesting to ensure a bountiful crop. These ceremonies are often led by the Brahman priests, showing the importance of their role in the agricultural community. So while farmers do make up a large portion of the Sudra caste, they are integral to the religious practices of Bali.

Traditional Farming Methods

Rice collected and left to dry in Ubud, Bali

When it comes to farming in Bali, traditional techniques still reign supreme. You’ll discover the organic practices and sustainable farming methods that have been passed down through generations. From terraced rice fields to intricate irrigation systems, these methods showcase the ingenuity of local farmers when it comes to water distribution. But there is something else to talk about which is how eco-friendly these farmers are nowadays.

Rice would typically need 6 months to harvest but the government-approved rice only needs 3 months. In order to achieve that, many farmers started using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. This practice has impacted the soil quite badly, urging farmers to go back to traditional chemical-free procedures. However, it’s not that easy to come back to eco-friendly solutions and the young generation is not interested in becoming farmers. The reason is that it’s not profitable compared to any job connected to tourism. Not only that but many farmers are also giving up their land for tourists to build their villas or in favour of new hotels.

The Impact of Tourism on Farming

As Bali’s popularity as a tourist destination has soared, it has inevitably left an impact on the agricultural landscape. Many farmers have shifted their focus from traditional farming to catering to the demands of the tourism industry. This includes growing cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, and spices, as well as producing fruits and vegetables for the growing number of restaurants and hotels. However, this shift has also led to a decrease in traditional farming practices and a reliance on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which can have harmful effects on the environment.

Hotels and villas occupying rice fields would not just affect the environment but also tourism itself! Think about all these tours to check out rice fields. The incredible landscape unique to Bali would not be the same without farmers.

How can you Support Farmers

Street of Ubud, Bali

As tourists in Bali, there are meaningful steps we can take to support and positively impact the lives of local farmers:

Visit Local Markets:

When shopping for souvenirs or daily necessities, opt for locally produced goods from traditional markets. This helps sustain the local economy and ensures a direct benefit to farmers.

Choose Sustainable Tours:

Select tours and experiences that promote sustainable and responsible farming practices. This not only provides an authentic insight into the life of Balinese farmers but also contributes to the preservation of traditional agriculture.

Engage in Agro-Tourism:

Participate in agro-tourism activities that allow you to visit farms, learn about traditional cultivation methods, and interact with farmers. This direct engagement provides economic support and fosters cultural exchange. If you are visiting Ubud, Bali Pulina is a great place to start. You can taste different kinds of coffees which are locally produced and also admire the incredible rice fields.

Support Eco-Friendly Initiatives:

Seek accommodations and restaurants that actively support eco-friendly and locally sourced produce. This encourages a shift towards sustainable farming practices and reduces the environmental impact of tourism.

Educate Yourself:

Take the time to understand the challenges faced by Balinese farmers due to tourism-related changes. Knowledge empowers responsible tourism, and being aware of the issues enables more informed and supportive decisions.

Respect Local Customs:

Respect the rituals and ceremonies associated with farming activities. Understanding and appreciating the cultural significance of these practices helps foster a harmonious relationship between tourists and the local community.

Participate in Community Initiatives:

Contribute to community-driven projects or initiatives focused on sustainable farming, education, or cultural preservation. Your involvement can make a positive impact on the lives of farmers and their communities. (Read how to meet local people in this blog post).

Limit Environmental Impact:

Practice responsible tourism by minimising your environmental footprint. Dispose of waste properly, conserve water, and be mindful of the ecosystems surrounding agricultural areas.

Conclusion

The rise of tourism in Bali has brought both positive and negative impacts on the farming industry. These are all things we need to know when we travel to Bali so that we can be mindful of our impact on the local economy and environment. I hope this blog post has given you a better understanding of farmers and their position within Balinese society.

Ciao for now,

Silvia x