Rise of permaculture – a ‘Greener Bali’

Bali has a bright future as a “green food” paradise destination, a hub of alternative farming that can lead the future in chemical-free food sustainability, shows research into the island’s thriving tropical permaculture and organic farms movement - an interview with food geographist, Pierre Delsaut.

Rise of Permaculture - A Greener Bali

In the fields of Bali: A good chance of recovering from impacts of industrialised food systems; Photo: P Delsaut

“Grassroots organic movements growing”

Field research across Bali’s farming landscapes - on the obstacles and cultural limitations that Balinese farmers face to escape the cycle of chemical food production - shows that Bali’s traditional farming culture had not gone too far from its organic roots, according to University of Paris-Sorbonne food geographist Pierre Delsaut.

“Bali’s island ecosystems have a good chance of recovering from the impacts of modern industrialised food systems,” said Delsaut, in the final stage of his 2016 thesis research.

The motivation of Balinese producers and the non-government organisations who train regional farmers in permaculture food production is rapidly growing into a strong network of grassroots organic movements on Bali, Flores, Lombok and many other islands across Indonesia.

“Permaculture is a natural system that also recycles waste so it can really work to make ‘Green Bali’ a reality, says Delsaut.

“Farmers can see the limits of modern farming – of genetically modified (GM) seed and the use of chemicals that they cannot afford to buy”.

Examining Bali’s traditional production practices while based at IDEP Foundation’s riverside permaculture training headquarters in Gianyar, the French analyst utilised the development organisation’s extensive data and knowledge libraries, and while conducting focus interviews for Balinese farmers was able to develop cross-cultural tools to share knowledge and findings with local organic food producer networks.

“People want a green island”

Rise of Permaculture - A Greener Bali

Huge interest: Balinese farmers keen to learn about permaculture and organic production; Photo: P Desault

Surveying 100 Bali farmers island-wide over six months, the researcher reported huge farmer interest in learning more about permaculture and organic production, from composting to pest control, or simply returning to Balinese food farming practice to grow traditional rice, vegetables, fruit and herbs.

“People want a green island – conditions are ripe for a healthy future in permaculture farming, and there is such a concentration of actors now – NGOs and microenterprise suppliers, thanks to tourists demand and the highly active Ubud organic markets scene.”

Originally from the farming district of Normandy, Delsaut, 25, is from a ‘foodie’ family of restauranteurs, and a keen gardening father who now resides in Bali. It was this family connection and interest that saw him on a road to researching Bali farming culture, after he saw first-hand the limitations of mass organic farming in France.

“Big supermarkets sell a lot of organic monocrop product – maybe only 50-60% is true organic, no good for the earth – so I tried to find something better than organic, I found permaculture,” he said.

“Lesson learned”

Rise of Permaculture - A Greener Bali

Big Lesson: “Will not forget for a very long time”; Photo: IDEP

One of his biggest lessons, while based at IDEP Foundation, was in seed saving – in fact, the researcher learned a big lesson in chili seed saving which, explains Delsaut, he “will not forget for a very long time”.

“We were harvesting the chili seeds for grading and drying, saving to distribute to farmers – and my hands, they burned for 24 hrs - I washed my hands ten times, no results – so I just decided to wait,” he recalls with an amused grimace, not realising a traditional remedy also was growing in the IDEP permaculture garden: the inside gel of aloe leaves that naturally treats skin discomforts.

Growing worldwide interest in sustainable agricultural practices is luring more international researchers to locations like Bali where local expertise is leading a revival in traditional organic farming, heritage seed saving and holistic ecological principles of permaculture that works successfully in semi-closed systems, particularly small islands.

“Permaculture people understand you cannot do big-scale permaculture in the context of local political cultures – so, the movement needs to start at grassroots level and spread without help from political interests, focused instead on large commercial farming”.

“Green circular economy”

Rise of Permaculture - A Greener Bali

‘Giving back’: proceeds seed new networks, planted in the earth to grow organic food; Photo: P Delsaut

As a grassroots NGO, IDEP Foundation practices green circular economics as a fundraising tool for farmer training in the expansion of permaculture networks - by retailing and online sales of Balinese heirloom vegetables and herb seeds.

While seedbank network loops take time to sprout roots and bear fruit – ultimately ‘giving back’ seeds to a cooperative ‘bank’ - IDEP also conducts professional workshops in permaculture and disaster preparedness training for corporate groups, hotel managers, other donor-funded groups and individual students interested in practical learning toward a sustainable, clean, green future.

All proceeds contribute to seeding new networks, planted in the earth to grow fresh organic food for healthier communities and a cleaner planet.

Words: Kerrie Hall
Visit: IDEP in Bali – Garden Day, every Friday, 9-11am – Kemenuh village, near Ubud
Find: IDEP - http://www.idepfoundation.org/en/contact-idep
Buy: IDEP organic seeds: http://www.idepfoundation.org/en/how-you-can-help/buy-seeds
See: IDEP training: http://www.idepfoundation.org/en/what-we-do/training