Ricefield Reflection


It is so easy to forget that Bali is not just about beautiful beaches; the island also has wonderful lakes, waterfalls, and mountains too! And up in the north, there are some rice terraces with breathtaking views! Here I’m taking you to Jatiluwih, a village located in Tabanan regency.

Tabanan is the area that has the largest production of rice in Bali, with Jatiluwih as the main supplier. Of course this is not enough to meet the consumption of rice for the whole island, let alone the country. We Indonesian are one of the main rice eaters in the world; rice is our main staple food and most of us eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Jatiluwih, UNESCO’s World Heritage Site

The puzzle is this: if the demand for rice in this country is really that high, then why Indonesia is one of the world’s leading rice importers? Why don’t people want to be rice farmers? There are many different explanations for that, but the definite one is because being a farmer is not beneficial.

First, the fertilizer is expensive and it is not subsided by the government (it used to, decades ago). Second, there is always the risk of crop failure due to the dry season, pests, and so on. Imagine that you’ve worked so hard every day, invested your time and energy, but yield nothing in the end. Third, rice cannot be planted today and harvested the day after. It takes months of daily hard work under the sun in order to be able to eventually harvest the rice, if nothing goes wrong.

As we watched the lush green landscape, my husband pointed out that the farmers need money every day; to buy food, to pay for their children’s school tuition, to buy medicine for the sick child, etc. But they can only have money every five or six months if they’re harvesting, and not to mention that they would have to pay the land owner for letting them work on the land.

For a moment, I was complaining to myself. My husband is once again ruining my ‘tourist mood’ by telling me all this. I wished that I can be just another tourist, merrily trekking the rice terraces and taking photos of the farmer’s unique caping (cone shaped cap). Because what can I do, really, to make a difference for the farmers? I feel small and helpless.

But then I thought, empathy is such an important feature in human lives. Often, it is what drive people to do meaningful act of kindness to others, a ‘vaccine’ against me-first attitude. Yes, I may not be able to change anything by caring or thinking about the farmers, but at least it is better than living in a pure ignorance to their challenges or suffering.

So if you ask me to tour you to Jatiluwih one day, I may start talking about the grim reality faced by the farmers there. Please don’t be annoyed. Sometimes, I think, tourists like us need a touch of reality.

People trekking the rice terrace, this one is in Tegalalang (Ubud, Bali)

People trekking the rice terrace, this one is in Tegalalang (Ubud, Bali)