Life behind the Bali holiday glitz

Life behind the Bali holiday glitz

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Everybody has got their own story of holidaying in Bali.

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Former Bali rice grower Katut Putrayasa supports his ageing parents, who are still working in rice paddies, with income as a tour guide.

Former Bali rice grower Katut Putrayasa supports his ageing parents, who are still working in rice paddies, with income as a tour guide.

EVERYBODY has got their own story of holidaying in Bali.

Mine was leaving Denpasar Airport chatting with a taxi driver, who told me he used to be a farmer in the north west of the island.

It naturally piqued my interest and three days later my new-found friend, Katut Putrayasa, was driving me to rice fields near Ubud.

"I won't take you to my village," he said.

"It's too far."

Judging by the size of Bali, it would probably have been about five hours, and Katut had "plans" for that night.

He told me he left the family farm because of the need for income.

"Mum and dad were very poor," he said.

"I remember as a young kid crying that I wanted to go to school but they couldn't afford it so I worked in the rice paddies.

"I left when I was 15 because there was nothing to do in the village, except working in the rice paddies and being poor.

"Even today many kids in the village don't go to school and they start collecting plastic bottles at three or four to supplement the family income."

His next comments will resonate with readers.

"Growing rice is difficult because you don't get paid well," he said.

"The government has high taxes on the land and we sell our unprocessed rice for about 80 cents a kilogram so we get enough money just to feed us.

Water from a mountain spring is channelled to rice growers in various villages by a series of inter-connecting canals.

Water from a mountain spring is channelled to rice growers in various villages by a series of inter-connecting canals.

"There's no wages between harvests and if you don't own the land it's worse because if you grow three tonnes of rice, two tonnes goes to the land owner and you can only keep a tonne.

"I think the government should look after agriculture and lower the land tax so people can have more money to live."

While Katut's parents (both aged in their late 70s) still work on their 100 ARE (10,000 square metres) farm, he supports them from his tourist guide income.

To put the 'landholding' in perspective, one ARE is a paddy 10 metres by 10 metres, or 100 square metres.

Each ARE generally yields three tonnes of rice which means his parents harvest 300 tonnes of rice a harvest which generates about $A800.

Depending on varieties, rice can be harvested two to three times a year and all of it is for local consumption.

The value of an ARE varies from about $2000 to $10,000 depending on growing regions, with Katut putting a $2000-an-ARE value on his parent's farm.

But he doesn't like to talk about who will inherit the property.

"I work seven days a week and only get a rest if there are no jobs," he said.

"If you don't work you get no money and you die," he added with a chuckle.

"In Bali it is a custom for the sons to look after the parents.

"I am married with three children, two daughters and a son, and live in Denpasar, where I rent a house.

"When my daughters marry their husbands will look after her in-laws.

"I am fortunate to have a son and he is studying law in Denpasar."

In rice paddies north east of Ubud, Katut pointed out the irrigation channels constructed by the government.

"Water comes down from the mountain and the government has built canals to separate the water so each village gets a share to flood irrigate the paddies," Katut said.

Katut of course is a full bottle on how to grow rice.

"The first thing you do is plough the field," he said.

"We use a wooden plough pulled by a cow then we hand seed and apply fertilisers then release the water onto the ground.

"The government doesn't want machinery in the paddies because they say any fuel spills from the tractors can contaminate the rice."

Occasionally, Katut says farmers need to spray pesticides and fungicides, "mainly around April".

During the growing season, weeds and mainly grasses are hand-picked by labourers working 12-hour days.

"A week before harvest we divert the water and cut the rice plants by hand and then hand-thresh it," Katut said.

"Then after harvest we dry out each ARE and burn the residue."

On the way back from Ubud, Katut called into to a few of his silversmith mates, hoping this writer might buy some wares.

Eight million Indonesian rupee ($A800) would have got me a magnificent mounted all-silver yacht.

But I had to set sail for home.

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