Feature

Bali’s rice basket struggles
to keep reputation

In the field: I Nyoman Surata, a Sudaji farmer, already grows a government-sponsored variety of rice on his family-owned rice fields. JP/Alit Kartarahardja

Many Balinese residents equate Sudaji village with good quality rice, delicious durian, mango and other tropical fruits.

Located in a remote spot on the slope of Cemara Geseng hill, 15 kilometers east of Singaraja, the 817-hectare village has been blessed with fertile soils.

The majority of its 8,404 residents are farmers working in family rice fields and plantations.

Three decades ago, the village grew a very specific type of rice called Beras (rice) Salah Bulu, popularly known as Beras Sudaji, Sudaji’ rice.

Mayungan, head of the village’s Subak (traditional agricultural organization), recalled the golden age of Sudaji rice in the early l970s to the late 1980s.

“Most farmers here were very proud to grow Sudaji rice, which was resistant to any diseases,” remembered Mayungan. The rice variety was known to taste very supple and delicious. The variety required delicate pre- and post-harvest handling including the usage of organic fertilizer like animal manure.

The planting process — including seedling and soil processing — took at least one and half month. Farmers could only yield their harvest six months after planting.

Because of its quality, Sudaji rice was sold at higher prices compared to other rice varieties.

“People, especially the well-off families in Bali, would always choose Sudaji rice. Markets were also wide open for this type of rice as hotels and restaurants in Bali preferred it too,” he said.

“But many farmers were put off from growing this high-quality rice variety because it was a lengthy process,” he added. They were more attracted to the government-sponsored Imidazolinone (IMI) Resistant (IR) rice varieties, which allowed them to have four harvests a year.

I Nyoman Surata, a Sudaji farmer, has already grown an IR variety of rice on his family-owned rice fields.

Harvesting rice over a shorter period is the fastest way for local farmers to make money. “We understand the quality of the IR variety is lower than our own Sudaji variety. But, times have changed.

Farmers need quick access to money to feed their families,” Surata admitted.

However, Surata still grows the Sudaji variety of rice on a small section of his fields. “The rice is for family consumption. We do not sell our Sudaji rice,” Surata said.

Surata was curious as to why so much Sudaji rice was available in local markets and supermarkets in Bali, and even in many cities in Java.

“Only a few of us grow such rice varieties for our own consumption,” he said.

Fajar Kurniawan, a native from Sudaji now residing in Denpasar, concurred that many farmers were no longer interested in growing Sudaji rice, which is considered to be less lucrative.

“Dozens of farmers transformed their rice fields to tropical fruit plantations, which offer more profitable yields,” he said.

Sudaji village chief Made Rahayudi conceded that growing high-quality tropical fruits such as durian and mangoes had drastically improved the economic situation of most families in the village.

“In the past, they grew durian trees in their backyards, and it proved to be profitable. Nowadays, farmers are setting up durian plantations and seedling centers,” said Rahayudi.

Widely known and revered in South East Asian countries as the “king of fruits”, the durian is distinctive for its large size, unique odor, and formidable thorn-covered husks The fruit can grow as large as 30-centimeters long and 15 centimeters in diameter, and typically weighs one to three kilograms.

Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the color of its husk green to brown, and its flesh pale yellow to red, depending on the species. The village has around 60 farmers concentrating on growing durian trees on more than 200 hectares of land.

Made Narasutha planted 19 durian trees on his yard at first. From these trees, he was able to reap hundreds of durian fruits and sell them for Rp 12 million at every harvest.

“Now, I can make Rp 150 million [selling durian] during the December-April harvest season,” he said.

To add economic value to his plantation, he also grows mangoes and mangos teen trees. Many of the farmers intend to plant Sudaji rice using modern farming methods and technologies, once they make enough money to feed their families.

“This variety was our long-time heritage, and it must be preserved. We have also received support from the government to grow our original varieties of rice.”

Lebah Madu farming group started a pilot project on a small 5,000 square-meter plot of rice fields.

“We are eager to find out whether we can still harvest the same quality of Sudaji rice as before,” Surata said.

The farmers will start sowing the seeds in the next week.

“If successful, we will encourage other farmers in our village and other neighboring villages to return to [growing] Sudaji rice.”

Post Your Say

Selected comments will be published in the Readers’ Forum page of our print newspaper.