May 22, 2024 Last Updated 6:09 AM, May 21, 2024

Back to the roots

Published: Jul 29, 2007

Sherry Kasman-Entus

'Our biggest worry is that the post-bomb 'recovery' program will succeed. Those who speak of 'recovery' talk only numbers - a return to the pre-bomb number of tourists. Bali is getting a lot of free advertising from this bombing. If the tourism industry recovers successfully, even more visitors could come than before, and this has the potential to wreck Bali.'

-Nyoman Suma Artha, Eka Sari

In the aftermath of the Bali bombing, local government and industry leaders formulated a four-stage tourism recovery plan in the interests of rescuing and expanding the island's tourism industry. Official sources project that through these recovery efforts, the number of foreign arrivals will return to pre-bomb levels by the end of this year, and pre-bomb growth rates resume by mid-2004.

Questions of how long the tourism economy will take to recover mask a more troubling set of questions about the sustainability of pre-bomb tourism industry growth which, long before the bomb, had already begun threatening the well being of most of the people who call this island home.

In 2001, tourism provided direct employment to 38 per cent of Bali's workforce and contributed 51 per cent of Bali's income. However, most of Bali's population is spread through rural villages far from the tourism centres, and the majority is employed in other sectors, including over 40 per cent in agriculture. A huge amount of the tourism revenue leaks into the pockets of outside investors. Farmland conversion, forest clearing, coastal development and pressures on water resources associated with the toUrism infrastructure have had devastating environmental impacts. Bali's traditional (adat) communities, based on subsistence agriculture and the ritual maintenance of harmony between people, gods and nature, are the backbone of the culture that is Bali's key tourist attraction. Yet past tourism master plans have been largely determined by outsiders, relegating adat communities to the status of objects of the tourist gaze, and preventing them from taking charge of their own development.

Many Balinese people viewed the tragedy as an opportunity to rethink the island's development priorities. When the wheels of the industry came to a grinding halt, Balinese authorities acknowledged that beyond short term tourism recovery, they would need to make long term plans to diversify the economy. Local activists declared the crisis a blessing in disguise, calling for more radical shifts. Many local activists have stressed the need to build a better quality of life for local people, based on equity, ecology, spirituality and empowered communities. The question is, how can this be realised on the ground?

Some community-based tourism initiatives, of which there are a dozen or more in Bali today, are helping to achieve this. They were not born of the bomb, but they may point the way to recovery from the unhealthy realities and misleading images of Bali that the bomb exploded.

Three of these initiatives are overviewed below. Each is unique, but all share common ground. They conceive of the tourist destination as a space where host and guest interact. Moreover, tourism is only one part of a strategy for sustainable change aiming to enhance the well being of the community in its environment. 

Beraban Selemadeg: Ten years ago, this coastal rice-farming village was zoned for tourism development in government spatial plans. This was followed by mass protests against the Bali Nirwana Resort (BNR) in nearby Tanah Lot, because of its location beside a sacred Hindu temple and its wholesale expropriation of land from local farmers. This sequence of events prompted a dozen Beraban villagers to start a community tourism group. By bringing tourism into the village and managing it on their own terms, they hoped to enhance local employment opportunities, while protecting their land and traditions from the commercialisation and dislocations occurring elsewhere in Bali.

Entirely self-funded, they have developed a 28-room homestay network and a cultural immersion program to introduce visitors to their architecture, cooking, rituals, music and farming practices. Future plans include community training in hospitality and conservation, a return to organic rice agriculture, and the establishment of an irrigation society (subak) museum as a focal point of village tourism.

Eka Sari: Living on the edge of West Bali National Park, the villagers of Eka Sari depend on this forest, one of Bali's last rainforests, for their livelihoods. Due to the economic crisis and rising demands for hardwoods for the export furniture market, Eka Sari became a key exit point for illegal logging. By 2000, tree depletion, water loss and soil erosion posed serious problems for local farmers.

Alarmed at this trend, Nyoman Suma Artha, an Eka Sari native, organised a village training with a local non-government organisation Indonesian Development of Education and Permaculture (Idep). As a result, a group of farmers started a poly-culture farm; the local wood-processing plant was shut down; women opened outlets selling organic farm support products; schools and homes initiated competitions for the best kitchen and medicinal gardens, and village youth organised tree-planting trips into the forest. This has since become a regular program involving 15 regional high schools.

Nyoman has launched a forest conservation club aiming to create a ring of protection around the forest by engaging all 26 border communities in a conservation and community development 'contest'. This year, five more communities are participating, starting with training designed to give them information and tools to innovate new livelihood strategies, including tourism enterprises featuring farm stays, forest trekking and tree planting activities.

Perancak: Bali has long been the hub of a vast sea turtle trade network, and Perancak, a fishing village on the southwest coast, was once renowned for its turtle-hunters. Escalating trade in turtle products, coupled with rapid beach development and destructive fishing, had driven the turtles almost extinct by 1996. Then the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) opened a Bali branch for a save-the-turtle campaign, and reached out to adat leaders for help. In 1997, the first nesting turtle in 37 years returned to Perancak. These two events inspired Wayan Tirta, an adatKurma Asih (Turtle Lovers), a group of 20 fishermen who joined forces with WWF to restore Perancak as a turtle habitat. leader of Perancak, to form

WWF phased out the prgram in 2002, and Kurma Asih is carrying on alone, determined to overcome steep challenges of insufficient funding and beach abrasion, along with the continuing black market in turtles in south Bali. They hope to raise community participation and external support to further develop local eco-tourism as a way to supplement local incomes, and support research and rehabilitation of the beach ecosystem.

Balinese community-based tourism is clearly an idea whose time has come.

Let us hope that it will not be lost in the momentum of a return to 'business as usual'.

Sherry Kasman-Entus (sherry@indosat. lives in Bali, where she designs and facilitates study tours in collaboration with local communities. She is currently completing a MA in Development Studies through Murdoch University.

Inside Indonesia 74: Apr - Jul 2003

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