With a per capita income of more than US$500 per annum, Bali today is one of Indonesia's most prosperous islands. The standard of living is much lower on Java, where the "minimum wage" is only about Rp1000 per day. On Bali it's Rp3500 or Rp4500 per day for day laborers-Rp5000 and up in Singaraja, Rp7500 in Ubud and Kuta. Only 10% of the island's villages are without electricity. The number of new Mercedes 300 and BMW 5 series cars is striking-proportionally far more than in the States (well, excepting Palm Beach or Beverly Hills). The ones who have it really have it.
     Rice-growing and export-about 100,000 tons annually-still dominates the economy, but tourism is catching up fast, employing an ever greater proportion of the population. In 1990, only 50% of the population was employed in agriculture. Of Bali's 550,000 hectares of arable land, 18% is covered in irrigated rice fields (sawah), 27% in nonirrigated dry fields (tegelan), 23% in state-owned forested lands, and 17% in cash-crops gardens (kebun). Rice cultivation is most widespread in the south and east.
     Alfred Russel Wallace reported 100 years ago that Bali was so well cultivated there was little room for indigenous vegetation. Besides rice, the Balinese grow tea, tobacco, cacao, copra, groundnuts, cassava, indigo, maize, onions, and legumes. Coffee is another major export crop, shipped primarily to Japan, the Netherlands, and the U.S.A.
     Indonesia produces 85% of the world's vanilla, and Bali grows more than any other island in Indonesia, about 30 tons per year. Soybeans, chili peppers, and tropical fruits are also cultivated. In the Bedugal area, cauliflower and broccoli are grown to supply the tourist industry in the south. Vineyards have been established in Buleleng Regency along the dry northwest coast. Pigs, cattle, cotton, sea vegetables, canned fish, kapok, and copra are other principal exports.
     In the days when barter was the major means of exchange, the man who owned many rice fields was considered very wealthy. Today, rice lands are steadily giving way to urban growth. Real estate and tourist development and the cash economies of the tourist and souvenir industries have become powerful agents of change in the egalitarian Balinese village. Now the Balinese want money-not bartered goods or labor-to buy consumer items, Hondas, cosmetics, electronics.


Bali is one of the few places on Earth made visually stunning by its main economic activity. The cascading terraces of rice fields are the most striking feature of the landscape, claiming even slopes that look too formidable to be of any possible use. The island is one big sculpture. Every terrace is manicured and polished, every field and niche carved and tailored by hand. Some plots are so small, they hold just four rice plants each. The Balinese have lovingly carved their own world in a series of geometric steps that climb up the volcanic slopes to the mountains where the gods live. Fringed by coconut palms, deep ravines force their way through this checkerboard pattern to the sea.
     On Bali rice-growing is both an art and a science. Because of the island's superb drainage pattern, the high volcanic ash content, and Bali's equable climate, conditions for traditional sawah cultivation here are perhaps the most ideal in all Indonesia. However, rainfall in the lowlands is insufficient to grow wet rice, and Bali's steep and narrow ravines are not easy to dam. To remedy these problems, the Balinese have devised ingenious cathements to collect rainwater and channel water. Thousands of tiny waterfalls spill a precious allotment of water onto tiers of paddy from high mountain lakes to coastal rice fields. This complex irrigation system, continuously maintained, groomed, and plowed, has been developed over many centuries. With a remarkable system of hand-built aqueducts, small dams, and underground canals, the island's terracing and irrigation practices are even more elaborate, sophisticated, and seasonably predictable than those on Java. Water is sometimes carried by tunnels through solid rock hillsides; water needs high on the ridges often require tunnels two or three kilometers long, some dug eight or nine centuries ago.
     About 70% of the population are rice farmers and it's due to their expertise that the Balinese have been able to support such a refined civilization and theatrical, picturesque religion. The discipline required to share water and resources has also created a remarkably cooperative way of life. Rugged individualists cannot exist in communities where every farmer is utterly dependent on the cooperation of neighbors.
     Rice land is not cheap, about Rp3.5 million per are (100 square meters). The main expanse of the island's rice-growing lands lies south of the mountains, in south-central Bali. These well-irrigated slopes produce three crops of high-quality rice every 14 months, with an annual yield of up to six tons per hectare. It's claimed this extraordinary harvest is equaled only by the "golden triangle" of Thailand and a small area of the Philippines. Specialized vocabularies deal with every aspect of rice farming, and a huge amount of time, energy, and money go into petitioning the gods so the rice farmer's work may yield good results.
     A computer program called "Bali Notebook" now models the hydrology and rice ecology of Bali. Based on historical data, it calculates the likely effects of changes in rainfall, water flow, planting schedules, fertilizer use, crop yield, and pest damage to help establish a permanent water-management system for the island.
  Made from palm leaf, this abstract female head with a large fanlike headdress is dedicated to the rice goddess Dewi Sri and dates from pre-Hindu rice cults. The figure is a symbol of wealth, fertility, and good fortune; ft can also be found on cakes, baked clay, or made from old Chinese coins. The art of cutting and folding young co-conut or palm leaves in intricate designs, both for impressive large-scale ornamentation and small-scale temple flower offerings like the above, is thought to be a pure Balinese art form, with no trace of borrowing from outside cultures.
IR36 versus Padi Bali
In 1969, a new "miracle" breed of rice, IR36, was introduced, a high-yield, disease- and insect-resistant variety developed by the Indonesian Department of Agriculture. By 1985 the new variety accounted for 90% of all rice grown on Bali, having replaced about 20 venerable old indigenous varieties, padi bali or beras bali, now grown mainly in the Pujung area. The growing time (90 days versus 180 days) and the yield (six tons versus four tons per hectare) make the new variety the government favorite. Yet many Balinese prefer the superior-tasting, lower-yielding, higher-priced padi bali. One can easily tell the difference between the diminutive IR36 and the magnificent, organically grown native plant, which stands as high as a human (120 cm).
     Agricultural officials note that in 1970, even with all its land under intense cultivation, Bali still had to import 10,000 tons of rice annually. After adopting IR36, Bali began exporting thousands of tons each year. With the new variety has come drastic changes in the organization and technology of working rice. The large quantities of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides needed to pamper IR36 degrades the quality of the soil. Because growing the new variety is not as labor-intensive, employment has been reduced by at least 18%. Since the grains of the new variety fall off rather too easily, rice is no longer carried back to the village for threshing as needed.
     It used to be common along Bali's roads to see bales of padi bali gracefully balanced on women's heads or bobbing at the ends of bamboo poles. No more. A number of traditional harvest festivals and ceremonies have also withered away. Women pounding rice in wooden troughs are giving way to thousands of mechanical rice mills. Since the new strain is considered "foreign," the Balinese feel it's no longer necessary to use the traditional handheld knife (anggapan) so as not to offend the rice goddess. Balinese now use sickles (arit) which shatter the new breed's fragile stalks easily. Still, small patches of padi bali are maintained, cut with anggapan to placate Dewi Sri.

Bali's well-defined dry season makes irrigation necessary, but the island's mountainous nature makes it difficult. Since a farmer is unable to build and maintain elaborate irrigation systems, only through cooperation with neighbors have the Balinese become famed as Indonesia's most efficient rice-growers. The subak is a communal association consisting of growers, tenants, and sharecroppers who work adjacent holdings averaging 50-100 hectares. Acting as a sort of local "water board," this intra-village civil engineering organization's main function is to control the distribution of irrigation water and organize joint work projects to build and maintain dams, canals, tunnels, aqueducts, and waterlocks. In existence in Bali since at least A.D. 896, there are today around 1,200 of these irrigation cooperatives, each with several hundred members. All must abide by the same rules. Each member is allotted work in proportion to the amount of water s/he receives; a pekaseh arbitrates any disputes. All government programs to improve rice production are channeled through the subak by a staff of field agents who live right in the main rice-growing areas.
     Though it's the bedrock unit of the Balinese community, the subak will buckle under to policies adopted by the central government. In 1994, after the government rezoned the land around Tanah Lot to clear the area of rice fields, the regency cut off all water supplies to the local subak. The villagers were eventually forced to relocate to make way for the massive 121-hectare Nirwana Resort. Even a venerable social institution like the subak subordinates itself to the imperatives of tourist development.

Rice Rituals
The divine rice plant is the source of all life and wealth, a gift of the gods. Rice rituals differ depending upon place, time, and situation, but all over Bali huge importance is placed on the growing of the island's single most important food crop. As in other areas of Balinese life, women prepare the offerings, designed to gain the goodwill of the deities who provide water and other favorable conditions for a successful harvest.
     Before each planting season, the head of the local subak undertakes a trip to the mountain lake of Bratan to ask Batara Wisnu ("Provider of Water") for his assistance. A few drops of water from the lake are symbolically splashed in each rice field before planting begins.
     Just as rite-of-passage ceremonies mark stages in a person's life, prayers and rituals accompany every cycle of growth in the life of the rice plant: germination of the seedbed, the planting, the plant's first birthday (42 days), ripening, Dewi Sri's "pregnancy," harvest, and at last a thanksgiving ceremony (ngusaba nini) in which a handsome meter-high cone of cooked white rice is offered up to Dewi Sri in the subak temple.
     Small bamboo shrines, resembling Thai spirit houses, stand at the corners of every sawah to hold the offerings dedicated to such agricultural deities as Ibu Pertiwi ("Mother Earth"), Surya (the sun-god), Batara Wisnu, and Dewi Sri, the lissome and beautiful rice goddess. Dewi Sri's deified effigy, fashioned from rice stalks, is found everywhere in the rice fields until the harvest is completed, when it's moved to an elevated place in granaries (lumbung) located in the backyard of almost every Balinese domestic courtyard. To discourage the evil spirits who are accountable for seed loss by birds and mice, offerings of flowers, rice, and eggs are laid before the shrine; cockfights may also be held to satisfy the spirits' bloodlust.

Stages of Growth
There are no particular seasons for growing rice. Traveling over the island at any time of year it's possible to see all phases in progress. In fields side by side you'll see the stubble of newly harvested fields; the glimmering mirrors of flooded, newly prepared fields; the jade of freshly replanted shoots; the swaying green or robust gold of a mature crop; the burning of the stalks; the plowing of fields interspersed with bright green seedbeds. Sawah are at their most beautiful when flooded, just before the young rice is transplanted. The smell of a healthy young sawah is akin to the odor of a healthy aquarium.
      To prepare the fields for planting, the farmer first rakes and breaks up the bare, dry ground and stubble of the sawah; this is called ngendag ("opening up"). After hoeing, the field is flooded, then smoothed with a wooden sledge (lampit) pulled by one or two cows (buffaloes lack the necessary stamina) until the whole field is turned into a muddy, watery ooze. The dikes (pundukan) must be continuously cleared of vegetation that would steal needed water from the sawah.
     Next, if one is planting padi bali, a corner of the rice field is walled off and a seedling nursery is begun with already germinated seeds. With the new high-yield dwarf varieties, the seeds are simply broadcast by hand. Seedlings grow for 25 days in the seedbed (ngabut). Several days before they are transplanted, the fields are again flooded and smoothed, then fertilized with urea and TSP. The more intensively and diligently the field is worked, the higher the yield.
     The transplanting in the larger field next to the seedbed is a group effort, the shoots thrust one by one into the watery mud, spaced one hand's breadth apart and lined up in rows. As the rice grows and the ears fatten on the heads, the rice is said to be pregnant; at this time the fields must be vigilantly guarded from mice and birds. Fluttering plastic strips, rags, bamboo clappers, whips, whirring, clacking contraptions-even human scarecrows-are found all over the fields.

Traditional Harvest Methods
After four months (six months for padi bali), the deep green of the nearly ripe crop appears, turning a golden yellow when fully mature. Although only men plant the rice, harvesting (gampung) is carried out by both men and women. This is a time when the usual quiet of the rice fields is replaced with the lively chatter and upbeat singing of happy throngs of workers-a time of great excitement in a Balinese village. Working under great bamboo hats, every able-bodied villager joins in the work, including children. Harvest is an opportunity to meet future sweethearts.
     During a harvest the village streets are almost deserted, the banjar empty-everyone is out in the fields. Offerings are made first, the rice goddess thanked for her bounty. So as not to frighten the goddess, women cut off the ears of padi bali with a small knife concealed in their palms.
     Behind the women as they progress across the field come the children, gathering whatever rice has inadvertently been left behind. These leftovers become the harvest of the children, which they can take home for themselves.
     Each handful of padi bali stalks is gathered into a sheaf of 10, handed to a man whose job it is to form the wonderful round bales (suwun). Ten sheafs comprise a 10- to 12-kg bale, which is tied with a bamboo string, turned upside down, and hung on the ends of bamboo poles to be carried back to the village in a sort of half-walking, half-running gait, or transported home on the heads of women.
     The modern, faster-growing hybrid IR36 is cut by sickles and threshed right in the fields, as it's brittle and tends to fall off the stalk if carried too far. After the harvest, the straw left in the fields is burned, enveloping the whole region in suffocating smoke. After several crops of padi bali, soybeans or some other legume are planted to rejuvenate the soil.

Threshing, Winnowing, Storing, Milling
Traditionally, bundles of rice are taken from the granary and husked a little at a time, just enough for one day's cooking, or sold as the family needs cash. The rice stalks must first be threshed, which frees the grains from the stalk. Then, because the Balinese prefer white rice, the grain is pounded to separate the husk from the inner kernel, usually in a hollowed wooden trough by women using metal-tipped, two-meter-long bamboo poles they rhythmically change from hand to hand. The sound of several women engaged in this task is an ancient form of percussion; some musicologists theorize the hypnotic cadence produced is the origin of most forms of Balinese xylophonic music.
     After the pounding loosens the chaff (nebuk), the rice is winnowed (njidi), the grains thrown up and caught on large split bamboo trays while the chaff falls to the ground or is carried away on the wind. The rice is then milled in one of the 1,500 or so gas- or diesel-powered mills found all over Bali. Mills purchase the rice outright, mill it, then sell the processed rice (beras) in 100-kilo sacks. Farmers can have their rice milled for around Rp100 per kg. The coarse bran, germ, and husk byproduct is used as food for pigs.
     Rice is the farmer's savings account. In Dutch times, farmers sold their crops for cash to the Denpasar rice mills, the money often squandered long before the next harvest. Now, after the harvest, rice is stored in the banjar granary, or tied in bundles sepingan, to the top of tall poles. You still sometimes see these bundles of rice drying in the sun, particularly in the uplands. The Indonesian government subsidizes the price of rice, known as the "mother price," so that all citizens are at least able to eat. Both government, military, and private-sector employees are paid partly in coupons that can be redeemed for rice.


Harvesting products from the sea is vital to the lives of many Balinese. The people of the east coast burn coral to make lime, process sea salt, and fish. The Balinese are not known as great seafarers like the Polynesians, nor do they have a history as long-range maritime traders like the Makassarese. Seldom did they trade farther than Lombok or Java. Bali's lack of good, sheltered anchorages and its inhospitable, unprotected coastline studded with jagged coral reefs and high cliffs were not conducive to the development of maritime skills. Most inland Balinese look upon the sea with fear and misgivings, but there is a quite vibrant local fishing industry which tourists rarely see. The island's largest fishing center is at Pengambengan, 10 kilometers southwest of Negara. The second most important fishing center, and the easiest to visit, are the four fishing villages along Jimbaran Bay just south of Ngurah Rai Airport on the west side of the narrow isthmus separating southern Bali and the Bukit Peninsula. The best time to visit Jimbaran Bay is at the peak of the dry season (May-Sept.); get there soon after sunrise, as the beach is deserted by midmorning. The scene is even more frenetic at Kedonganan, directly east of the airport, where up to 50 trucks line up in front of the T.P.I. fishing cooperative office waiting to haul off each day's catch.
     Bali's fish harvest is around 60,000 tons per year. Roughly 70% are sardines, 20% tuna and mackerel, 10% sharks and coral fish. The export of fresh tuna to Japan and the United States alone brings in US$10 million. Most fish are canned in the plant at Suwung near Benoa, which produces 15-20 tons daily, most exported to Java.

Seaweed Farming
The Balinese have collected seaweed for hundreds of years, though government-supported commercial production only began in 1980. The most successful cultivation site is the narrow strait between the islets of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, and on the north coast of Nusa Penida. About 1,000 families are engaged in seaweed production on Nusa Penida, while 35 families work at the Cape Geger project.
     To farm seaweed, stakes are first driven into the sandy ocean bottom near shore, then plastic ropes are tied between the stakes to form a rectangle 2.5 by five meters square; 50 of these rectangles make up a 625-square-meter area; 16 squares occupy a hectare. All cultivation and harvesting take place underwater.
     It takes a family of five to maintain one-quarter of a hectare, producing about 20 tons of dried seaweed per year. The collected seaweed is used in food, sauces, soups, condiments, and agar-agar, a thickening agent used in cooking. The harvest is sent first to Surabaya, then exported to France, Denmark, Japan, and Singapore for processing. Bali exports approximately 400 tons of seaweed per year. The government does all it can to promote this highly exportable, profitable, labor-intensive, nonpolluting, nonseasonal industry.

Next to lombok (chili peppers), salt is the favorite condiment of the grain-eating Balinese. In the southern part of the island a vigorous family-run cottage industry produces clean, unrefined natural salt from seawater.
     The island's salt-making capital is Suwung. Another salt-producing area is the broad tidal flats of Jimbaran. The glistening, volcanic black-sand beach at Kusamba, three kilometers northeast of Klungkung, is a third salt center.
     All three locations use different methods to produce salt, though the principle is the same: large amounts of seawater are deposited onto land and allowed to dry under the sun; the residue is scooped up, leached, and the outflow allowed to evaporate, leaving gritty salt crystals which are then purified. The Jimbaran saltworks employs an evaporator, a large, loosely woven bamboo basket extruding a long, white, dripping stalactite around which forms a cake of salt. Saltmakers produce an average of about 25 kg per day.
     Saltmakers at each site claim that the salt from the other locations is crude and bitter, but it's generally believed Jimbaran salt is the highest quality. Because of its complex beneficial minerals and bio-electronic properties, sea salt balances alkalinity/acidity levels, renews energy, restores good digestion, rejuvenates the body's biosystems, and relieves allergies and skin diseases.


One of the best places in Southeast Asia to buy fashionable clothes and beachware is in Sanur and along the road running between Kuta and Legian. European and American designers have teamed up with nimble-fingered Balinese garment workers to open hundreds of fashion boutiques selling the latest in continental and industrial fashion designs, as well as every type of batik imaginable, including Malaysian imports.
      The garment industry of Denpasar, Kuta, and Sanur comprises over 150 establishments employing about 8,000 people. Garment exports total over US$90 million. Two of Bali's largest textile factories lie along the main tourist artery between Denpasar and Mas. Government-owned Patal, opened in 1965, makes polyester and rayon yarn for Central Javanese batik. The raw materials are brought in by truck from Java; about 200,000 kg of finished product is returned to Java each month. The other factory, Balitex, is owned by the provincial government of Bali, its 60 looms producing about 30,000 meters of good-quality cotton and rayon cloth each month. Most of the cloth is sold to garment makers in the Kuta-Sanur-Denpasar tourist grid. The factory also maintains a wholesale/retail shop on the premises.
     Several other, smaller textile weaving factories (pertenunan) are found in Gianyar, where there are also a number of large display rooms. Weaving factories in Singaraja specialize in reproducing ancient, finely detailed silk ikat and distinctive handwoven sarung and kain.
     The Balinese make very little batik themselves, importing for resale batik from Java. But they do produce a very striking and distinctive tie-dyed cloth called endek, actually more popular with the native Balinese than with tourists. Scores of factories all over Gianyar, Denpasar, and Singaraja manufacture this unique fabric. Endek, ikat, colorfast sarung, and gold-threaded songket are created and sold in Poh Bergong village about 10 kilometers south of Singaraja on the way to Beratan.

Other Small Industries
The Bukit Peninsula is home to a number of important industries. One is the conversion of coral into quicklime (pamor), used in the making of mortar. A very high temperature is required to slake lime; you can always locate a lime kiln by its great clouds of choking, polluting fumes.
     During the early 1980s the offshore tidal environment and reef fauna of Kuta, Sanur, and Candidasa were totally degraded by indiscriminate coral gathering. Now regulations prohibit coral harvesting less than three kilometers from shore. Fortunately, lime output has started to fall off as more builders switch to superior cement.
     Limestone quarrying on the Bukit to produce blocks and bricks is concentrated south of Pecatu. You can see many old quarries on the main road to Uluwatu Temple. Long crowbars (linggis) are used to pry the limestone loose from the cliffs, and the blocks are sawed where they fall.
     Baked red bricks and roof tiles are made in wooden molds by hand in the northern part of the island wherever there are clay deposits, which is just about everywhere. This enterprise is a curious sight, the brick- or tilemaker's shed completely surrounded by a deep moat dug right out of the clay topsoil. The island's brick-making center lies just south of Mambal on the road north from Denpasar to the Monkey Forest, where half the population is involved in this lively industry.
     Bali's prefab clay, concrete, and ceramic center is at Kapal, between Tabanan and Denpasar. Kapal is also famous as a manufacturing center for Bali's rice cookers-the weird and wonderful dang-dang many tourists mistake for hats-as well as numerous other sheet metal products. A growing market is the export of traditional Balinese wooden house frames and parquet floors, particularly to Australia and the United States.