Subak Jatiluwih: Showcasing Bali’s Ancient Irrigation Wisdom at the World Water Forum

Subak Jatiluwih
Subak Jatiluwih, Bali.

As Bali prepares to host the 10th World Water Forum from May 18-25, 2024, the spotlight turns to Subak Jatiluwih, a centuries-old irrigation system that exemplifies the island’s rich agricultural heritage. This event will provide a unique opportunity for international delegates to experience Bali’s cultural and natural wonders, especially its historical water management practices.

Subak Jatiluwih, located in the heart of Bali, is not just a tourist attraction but a living testament to ancestral wisdom in water distribution. Unlike other regions that have shifted from agriculture to tourism, Jatiluwih remains committed to its traditional practices.

“We use the tektekan system to distribute water based on the number of members. The water management in Subak Jatiluwih consists of primary and tertiary channels, which are then allocated to each group,” explained Pekaseh Subak Jatiluwih, I Wayan Mustra, to CNBC Indonesia.

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The upcoming forum, themed “Water for Shared Prosperity,” will highlight how Subak Jatiluwih’s unique system avoids favoritism by distributing water according to family size, ensuring fairness and social harmony. “This is our ancestral heritage, and we are committed to maintaining the system as it is,” Wayan emphasized.

Central to their practice is the principle of Tri Hita Karana, which promotes harmony with God and nature. “Harmony with God and harmony with plants. That’s what we practice here,” he added. This principle is crucial in preserving the cultural integrity of Jatiluwih.

Throughout the planting season, farmers observe 15 ritual stages, a tradition that helps mitigate the risks of crop failure amid climate changes. “In 2015, we faced a 70% crop failure due to drought. The water flow decreased, but we can still maintain our planting pattern,” Wayan recounted.

Jatiluwih farmers hope that the government will help preserve agricultural land from being completely converted to tourism. They are committed to maintaining their land for farming. “We hope that this agriculture can be sustainable, and that people will understand the subak culture,” Wayan said.

The unique aspect of Jatiluwih’s farming practice includes synchronized planting and harvesting, with all farmers required to plant red rice during the rainy season. This synchronization helps maintain the traditional agricultural rhythm.

During the December planting season, farmers plant their crops within a week, nurturing their fields until May when the rice turns golden, and harvesting begins in June. Jatiluwih’s red rice is renowned for its high yield, producing 5-6 tons per hectare, double the yield of regular rice. The red rice plants grow about 2 meters tall, compared to the 1-meter height of regular rice plants.

To ensure sustainable farming, Jatiluwih aims to achieve 100% organic farming by 2026, reducing dependency on government fertilizers. Currently, 30% of their farming practices are organic, showcasing their commitment to environmental stewardship.

As the World Water Forum approaches, Subak Jatiluwih stands ready to demonstrate its enduring legacy of sustainable and equitable water management, offering a glimpse into the rich cultural tapestry of Bali to the world.