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How Ya’ Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?

Legislation and a New Vision Among Balinese Youth Needed to Protect and Preserve ‘Subak’ Agricultural Areas

(11/30/2012) The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is urging Bali to protect the heritage site encompassed by rice terraces at Jatiluwih from being swallowed up by the island’s rapid development.

As reported by The Jakarta Globe, UNESCO is comparing the threat faced by Bali’s “subak’ rice fields to the economic pressures that are denuding Sumatra’s rainforest.

UNESCO is urging new legislation that will freeze the status of areas used for rice terrace cultivation, preventing their change of use to non-agricultural designations.

The “subak” rice fields of West Bali earned UNESCO Heritage status in May 2012.

“We’ve visited four districts whose subak fields have been named a world heritage site and asked the district heads to issue a bylaw in line with (UNESCO’s) global guidelines (for world heritage sites),” Arief Rachman, chairman of the Indonesian National Commission for UNESCO, told the Antara News Agency. 



Bali’s ancient “subak” irrigation system dates to the ninth century and is widely considered to reflect the wider cultural values of the Balinese and the local commitment to carefully balance the spiritual, natural and human spheres.

According to UNESCO’s Website: “The subak system of democratic and egalitarian farming practices has enabled the Balinese to become the most prolific rice growers in the archipelago despite the challenge of supporting a dense population.”

Legislation is being drafted to protect conservation areas, both natural and historical, but this is typically a lengthy process with prolonged arguments regarding whether it is the regency’s or the province’s prerogative to draft and enforce such measures.

The head of the Bali Tourism Office, Ida Bagus Subhisku,  said that the tourism industry is gradually depleting traditional agricultural areas, a situation hastened by a diminished interest in farming as a career by Bali’s youngest generation.

“The number of farmers is also getting low because more residents choose to work at hotels now,” Subhiksu said. “According to a survey we did, many farmers’ children did not want to be farmers when they grow up."