Bali youngsters leaving agriculture as tourism booms

Wasti Atmodjo and Ary Hermawan, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar

Ketut Widarti, 25, was born and raised in an idyllic agricultural village in Singaraja, Buleleng regency.

Instead of working on the farm, however, Widarti moved to the provincial capital of Denpasar, where she has been living for the past five years.

In fact, soon after graduating from high school, she enrolled in a tourism college.

"It is hard to earn a living in the village. Here I receive a monthly salary, bonuses and tips," said Widarti, who now works as a waiter in a restaurant in Kuta.

Bali has long been considered one of the most attractive islands in the world, attracting millions of domestic and foreign tourists annually.

It is no surprise, therefore, that tourism has become Bali's economic backbone, employing hundreds of thousands of people from around the country.

Today, nobody would be surprised by Widarti's decision to leave her village and work in the tourism sector. In fact, most Balinese youngsters believe there is no future in farming.

Widarti's elder sisters, for example, moved to Denpasar long before she made a similar decision. Widarti's sisters all work in hotels.

"The families of my two brothers-in-law are also farmers but no one is prepared to stick with farming," Widarti said.

Nyoman Sutjipta, a lecturer at state-owned Udayana University's School of Agriculture, said it appeared many youngsters from farming areas headed to tourism centers like Denpasar or Badung in a bid to improve their lot.

"Everything is about tourism now. Everybody wants to study at tourism schools so they can work in hotels, restaurants, travel agents and so on," he said.

Imam Suharto, the learning and information manager of VECO Indonesia, a non-governmental organization dealing with agriculture, however said the declining interest in agriculture was a national trend.

Sutjipta deplored the fact that government institutions were not doing enough to attract the younger generation to the agriculture sector.

"The government thinks that it (attracting young people to the agriculture sector) is the responsibility of agriculture agencies only. We must work together to arrive at an integrated strategy involving other institutions such as the trade and transportation agencies," he said.

When the Bali bombings rocked the island's tourism industry in 2002 and 2005, the Bali administration and industry players were reminded of the importance of maintaining and developing agriculture-based tourism.

No real action, however, was taken to follow up the idea, Sutjipta said.

Creating an economically promising agriculture system, he said, was critical to drawing the younger generation back to the sector. Thus, the government must provide solutions, especially considering the poor sales of agricultural products.

"Our products are actually very good and worth exporting. But can they export their products by themselves? The administration, particularly the trade agency, just doesn't really care about it," he said.

Some youngsters, however, have shown renewed interest in agriculture, although it is still supplementary, focusing more on the marketing side.

"They change the packaging (of the product), making it more attractive to increase the price," Sutjipta said.

Wayan Warka, the head of Kertalangu village in Kesiman, Denpasar, said only a few young people in his village had returned to work on their families' farms.

"They have not entirely committed to working in the sector, though," he said.

The village has launched the Kertalangu Cultural Village program, which aims to combine agriculture and tourism.

International Rice Research Institute development director Duncan Graham said that globally agriculture was now facing serious challenges from the effects of climate change resulting from global warming, including more floods and droughts than ever before, while at the same time many members of the younger generation around the world were abandoning agriculture for economic reasons.

"The big problem is that agriculture and farming have become less sexy. Nobody cares about them. Everybody has forgotten agriculture. Everybody is more excited about the IT industry, tourism and everything else. We are paying the price for forgetting about agriculture and food production," Graham said.

But there is still hope young people will return from the city with more interest in the farm and farm work.

"When we grow old, maybe we can go back to farming in our village," Widarti said.
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