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Jakarta Post

UNESCO urges serious preservation of '€˜subak'€™

  • Ni Komang Erviani

    The Jakarta Post

Sanur, Bali   /   Wed, September 25, 2013   /  11:34 am

UNESCO has strongly urged the provincial administration to take concrete action to immediately preserve the subak traditional farming locations recognized as World Heritage Sites, an official confirms.

Ketut Suastika, head of the Bali Cultural Agency, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that in the letter sent to the administration, UNESCO frequently reminded Bali of the importance of preserving subak and questioned its programs since the UN agency had declared its status in June 2012.

'€œIt is not a warning letter. It is more a motivational letter to encourage us [Bali administration] to seriously work on subak preservation,'€ Suastika stated on the sidelines of the cultural congress in Sanur.

In June 2012, UNESCO officially acknowledged Bali'€™s traditional subak agricultural system with its rice terraces and water temples, as a cultural landscape, placing it on its World Heritage List during the organization'€™s annual meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Subak reflects the philosophical concept of Tri Hita Karana, which brings together the realms of the spirit, the human world and nature.

The subak system of democratic and egalitarian farming practice has enabled the Balinese to become the most prolific rice growers in the archipelago, despite the challenge of supporting a dense population.

Included in the UNESCO-recognized landscape are the 18th-century royal temple of Taman Ayun in Badung, the Batukaru mountain reserve in Tabanan, the Pakerisan watershed in Gianyar and Lake Batur in Bangli, in total covering 19,500 hectares.

Following the recognition of subak and other areas in Bali, UNESCO requires the provincial administration to enforce programs for their preservation. A year has passed, but no real programs have been implemented.

Initially, the provincial administration planned to establish a board to oversee and manage the
heritage sites.

The board was supposed to consist of numerous institutions, community-based organizations, scholars, farmers and other individuals.

Another important concept was to enforce stricter regulations related to spatial planning and zoning of world heritage sites. None of these plans were realized or enforced.

'€œWe are still facing financial and technical hurdles. We need a special budget to implement those programs and are hoping to do that in the 2014 fiscal year,'€ Suastika explained.

Suastika further said that the first thing to do next year would be issue spatial planning and zoning regulations for the world heritage sites. The programs, he said, would follow soon.

'€œThe focus will be the improvement of farmers'€™ living conditions and land preservation,'€ Suastika noted.

Wayan Windia, professor of agriculture and head of the Subak Research Center at Udayana University, said the administration lacked political will to preserve subak and agricultural sites.

'€œThey [government officials] act very slowly and ineffectively in responding to UNESCO'€™s strong requirement for the preservation of subak as world heritage sites,'€ Windia complained.

The professor said that UNESCO'€™s acknowledgement of subak had brought Bali into the international spotlight.

'€œThe Bali government and tourist industry have gained benefits from UNESCO'€™s recognition. It has become a powerful promotional tool for Bali across the world,'€ he said.

Farmers, on the other hand, still live in poverty. '€œUNESCO can revoke the status of World Heritage Sites at any time if the holder fails to meet its requirements to work on serious preservation programs.'€

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