The grass is always greener on the other side, or so they say. Bajawa seems to have a bunch of things that Bali doesn't have. One being the perfect tight-knit community for organic farming. Fabian here from the think-team, still contemplating about my field visit to Bajawa, Flores. I talked about the inspiring people I met on my trip last week. Now, I want to share my two cents about my speculation.
Bajawa, Flores (2021)
As I mentioned, the farmers I met were like no other. All motivated intrinsically to farm without chemicals, to use biogas for the fertilizers, and to learn circular economy for longevity. No one (at least the one I talked to), were incentivized through money. In contrast, it has been a difficult experience for me to find a farmer as passionate in this go-green mission in Bali. Perhaps less than a handful. Did I meet paid actors in Bajawa? Was this The Turman Show? Conspiracy theories aside, I think I actually found some answers to why there is such a difference in the farming practices. Let's start with, why aren't farmers in Bali practicing organic farming?
I closed off 2020 with an amazing day trip to Bedugul. Aside from the awesome sensation of harvesting eggplants and tomatoes, I get to see reality. Thing is, Canggu is filled with Organic shops claiming that they harvest locally sourced organic farms somewhere. But where I went was none of those ‘organic’ gentrified farms. I met farmers just being themselves. Using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers solely for survival.
Bedugul, Bali (2020)
Pesticides on Celery and Tomatoes
It’s easy to study sustainability in classes and learn that organic = good, pesticide = bad. But the actual field is not so forgiving to the ecologically sustainable approaches when years of industrialized (and colonized) land have polluted the soil and created a system so hard to renew. Even if a farmer decides to go fully organic, cross-contamination from other farms will affect you no matter what. Not to mention, the pests will all attack the one location that uses no pesticides. My naive self a few years ago could mark farmers as the bad guy for not implementing eco-friendly practices. If anything, they are victims of a system that places them at the bottom of the food chain, even though they are ticking off our first layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.
So what happened to Bali? Or maybe a better question would be, what did not happen to Flores? I suspect that industrialized farmers didn't touch the Flores Islands as much. Farmers in Bali are accustomed to a system - subsidized synthetic fertilizers from the Government, sponsored by pesticide companies, cheap livestock feed. Also, notice I keep saying "farmers in Bali" instead of "Balinese farmers", that's because there are plenty of migrant ones (mainly from Java). With that, there are also plenty of farmers that are merely land managers and not landowners.
In contrast, fertilizers aren't really given to farmers in Flores. Livestock feed is also more expensive here. This is why when we came to give a workshop on a completely circular farm, they were interested. I've spoken to many of them personally and I am convinced that they were indeed genuine. Genuine to change their habits as if they were never dependent on a system. In fact, a lot of the big buzzwords such as permaculture, Climate-resilient Agriculture, are really just traditional practices revisited. So maybe the grass isn't necessarily greener in Flores, rather it was not as green years ago. The lack of support farmers get may be the reason they strive for self-sufficiency.
So there you have it. Do note that I have yet to test my hypotheses. I'm looking forward to understanding what exactly happened. Perhaps you have a different idea, why is implementing the ideal/organic farming difficult in certain areas of Indonesia?
Regardless, appreciation is the least I could do to any farmers in the country or the world, but I’m definitely not stopping there. Thank you to my inspiring friends who initiated these trips, letting me explore Bali and Flores deep into the actual roots. Again, no lecture on sustainability at the university level will teach me about reality as much as these field visits will.
I can't wait to see more.