In this episode I talk with Suar Wisnu, of the Wisnu Foundation in Bali, Indonesia. The foundation works with over 30 villages in Bali, to help villages preserve their unique culture and improve their way of life.
This audio was recorded at Geocafe in Bali, Indonesia and was later transcribed from the recording. In several places in the transcript below, I have indicated portions of the audio that I haven’t been able to transcribe. The are marked with [inaudible] along with a timestamp.
Recorded: 28 May, 2021
Transcribed: 24 March, 2022
[Beginning of recorded material]
Michael: One of the things I hope to accomplish with the interviews section of my channel is to record and share some of the unique stories and perspectives existing throughout the coffee chain. This interview certainly meets that goal.
Suar gives us an insight into the very unique culture of the Balinese people by sharing how the Wisnu Foundation works with villages throughout Bali.
Doing business in Bali can be challenging for an expat. I know. I’ve tried. The biggest challenge I had was a mismatch of both communication and culture. My business parter and I failed to overcome these barriers and the partnership suffered and ultimately failed as a result. I hope someday to produce a video or podcast to share that experience.
But for now, enjoy the interview, and I hope you it as enlightening and informative as I do.
Michael: Okay. In three…two…one… Suar, thank you for sitting down with me, I appreciate it. It’s been something we’ve been trying to put together for a while now.
Suar: Absolutely right. Yeah.
Michael: You have a lot of interesting things going on. I wanted to talk to you…I think if we start at the big picture, like Wisnu, what you do for the various communities, then we go into, maybe, Bali Coffee Lab, your new venture. And then bring it into coffee production. I think that might be a good way to go about things.
So what do you do with Wisnu? What do you have going on with them?
Suar: Well the Wisnu Foundation actually, I and my friends established in 1993. It’s already 28 years ago. I just recently celebrated the anniversary 25th of May…
Michael: 28 years…
Suar: 28 years ago we established. It’s quite a while actually. The main goal or ideas at that time was how to deal with the environmental issues in Bali, since Bali has been developed as very touristic area.
So as the nature of tourism industry is the…they need the, for sure, resources, especially natural resources, as Bali is one of very famous tourist destinations, as a very small island. Of course we have a very limited resources. So that’s why along the way we can see that a lot of conflict of interest in terms of using resources. For instance, like water, like land-use chains, and then garbage issues also. Because tourism industry is not only bring the economic benefits, but also environmental and social/cultural consequences in that sense.
So that’s why the Wisnu Foundation tried to work slowly. Because as an NGO, you know, at that times in 1993 it is quite difficult to be an NGO—Non-government. You know when we do our activities, within the authoritarian government at the time.
So that we tactically, we deal with the waste issues. Because it is very tangible you know, it’s plastic already everywhere, you know the volume of waste is getting more and increase. And the local community is not really aware yet about the characteristic of the waste. I mean, new waste, which formerly they deal mostly with natural waste, when they just…traditionally the Balinese special setting is through the design, dealing with natural waste. Because in the back yard they have their own way of dealing with the natural waste, organic waste. It’s almost zero waste, if you learn from the traditional way of dealing with the life.
So that along the way we learned a lot about the characteristic of the waste. We deal with the sources of the waste from…the waste from the tourism industry. Because we can see the waste from tourism industry contains an amount of plastic, cardboard, can, hazardous waste, papers, you know, which actually, in a sense, I think the government planning is not ready yet, dealing with that kind of fast-growing, fast-developing of the tourism industry with their own wastes.
So then we do, we conducted a kind of brief [inaudible 5:55] research in the tourism industry. For instance, where actually they throw their out…they, dump their waste. In fact, actually, there are some kind of haulers dealing with their waste. Then, well, actually when we go deeper to the hotel, actually they sell their own waste, because a lot of valuable and economical value within the waste. Like if you drink from the can, the can is still valuable, and then that’s actually the reason from the accounting probably, to sell their waste.
But, when they sold their waste, the private hauler has no proper place how to deal with the aspiration and the picking of the valuable material. And the rest, the residue, they just throw in the mangrove forest. And that’s we’ve found, that’s a lot of brand of international 5-star chains hotel scattering in the area.
That we use, we took a picture, we used a kind of way of negotiating with the hotel. The studying about the management of the ways they have dealt with their waste. And then we showed them the picture of their own brand company. If this kind of practice you continue, there is a law of international, the polluter must pay principal. Then you do a tourism business here, but you pollute the environment. That is not fair and not healthy, safe for our island.
Michael: So you put pressure on them and forced them.
Suar: Yeah, we directly went to the General Manager, showing them the facts. And then, gradually we proposed a kind of initiation: ‘why don’t you manage your own waste, so that you can claim that your business is implementing a friendly or aware of the environment by introducing a kind of MRF: Material Recovery Facilities.
So those local people who formerly as a private hauler, we develop their awareness and also doing a capacity [inaudible 8:40 wielding?], so that they can improve their place how they can separate the waste and how they can keep a record of the waste. Then [inaudible 8:55] how much, then in the end, this is kind of a record, report to the hotel. So they know how much plastic they use, and how much cardboard they use and how much waste were wet. We consider like a dry and wet kind of waste. It’s dry, mostly like from paper or cardboard, aluminum can, glasses, everything. Wet is mostly from the restaurant.
Suar: Because here in Bali, people, I can frankly speak: we eat pork. The wet waste from the hotel is considered as kind of, the first-grade, you know five-star hotel: first-grade food. Even so there’s still waste, the waste is first-grade. This goes to the pig feeder. And then the pig become very, have fat, healthy. And it kind of closed the loop. We can, the local livestock pig…
Michael: So you pick up the wet food waste from the hotels. This is a program that you’ve set up with Wisnu. You pick up the waste and then you deliver it to farmers who are raising pigs.
Suar: Yeah, and then now we make the concept and then we develop the organizational capacity of the private hauler because we have to improve the places of the private hauler so that they can be manageable and also do a database and then make a communication with the hotel.
So within the hotel also we do a kind of waste audit, how much, how percentage of their occupancy, type of tourists, and what kind of waste, so that we know the kind of communication from the hotel to the private hauler or material recovery facilities. So then they can use this as kind of a communication, so through this kind of management. And also we deal with the garden waste, for composting and bring it back to the hotel.
So through this concept, we actually push to the hotel; ‘you have to pay this management, otherwise you can not claim, this is your management.’ Because as formerly fact that the private hauler throwing your waste to the mangrove forest, that’s not healthy.
Then yeah, it’s growing. It’s all chains hotel along Nusa Dua is getting involved with the concept. And until now I think the government also try to copy in different ways; introducing to the different community, to the cities, how they deal with that.
Michael: Yeah, I know that Bali has had some problems with, they have a love/hate relationship with the trash in Bali because there’s no central management program for it. And I think that, I think that there was rumors about a European community, er company, maybe German company going to build incinerators to also generate power, but that didn’t work out.
Suar: It didn’t work out, yeah, because see now it’s a, in Bali now it’s being, if you make a plan of how to centralize the waste it’s kind of, you know the setting of Bali and also the setting of the urban in Bali, it’s not like in the West…urban planning. It’s all based on the basic planning of the urban.
But Bali is mostly—used to be a kind-of villages all over Bali. The setting will be quite difficult. I mean that’s a road sometimes it’s not big enough and then the traffic, this is a lot of issues along the way facing by the planner.
But nowadays, the government decree, the governor decree us already how to manage the waste from the source. That’s why they have a, from the source, from the family, the family compound, and Banjar system (village system) make their, introduce to develop their own management, many, many management waste…
Michael: So it’s like a patch-work, each Banjar collects their trash and does something with it differently than the next one, maybe?
Suar: Yeah, that’s the thing. I think it’s…when we established 28 years ago, we actually make a kind of plastic pyramid in Munduk. It’s a reminder, a kind of, we think about in the future, if you deal, if you not seriously dealing with the waste, there will be a kind of, another enemy for the management. So that’s quite, 28 years ago, it’s already reminding that…
But nowadays it’s already awareness, and the people can participate and then also the mechanism of dealing with that is also developing. And also the political will from the government is already come together, hopefully it’s a, this island will be a better management, in terms of waste management.
But after five years from 1993, it’s 1998, there’s a kind of, big political issue in Indonesia. It’s the reformation kind of movement. So then our president Mr. Suharto stepped down, then we already orient our focus on the Wisnu Foundation. You know, through the community-empowering program.
You know, before actually if you go to the community, try to organize community, it’s kind of a dangerous spot. You are leftist or right…sort of, kind of…
Michael: Politics everywhere…
Suar: Yeah, politics everywhere. And then, yeah, we tried to, the way we work in the Wisnu actually, is being a Balinese, who’s been taught as a, as a local people through the practice of culture, way of life in Bali, you know it’s a, where the concept of life in Bali is balance. It’s balance. We have to respect of the nature, we have to respect the relationship between the social and humankind, and also the god-creator. How we make a kind of balanced relationship in that sense. And I got this kind of an actual balance kind of conceptual life in Bali is…after graduated from the Bogor Agricultural Institute, as a young generation, a scholar, who’s not really aware much about the value and the outstanding value of the of our tradition here in Bali. I used to work, after graduated from Bogor Agricultural Institute, I used to work, five years, in Bali, [inaudible 17:02] in Bali, it’s with the Bali Sustainable Development project. It’s kind of a twinning project between government organization and Canada through the university of Waterloo, York University, Yale University, Gadjah Mada University here in Indonesia [inaudible 17:18] in Indonesia, and also in association with local university Udayana here.
It’s quite a intense discussion and workshop, discussing about sustainable development. And because I work as a local staff and also being a field manager afterword, it’s kind of, this is, this is discussion in the workshop is kind of, it’s not new, new terminology for the formulation of way of life, our culture. It’s like being a Balinese kind of, this is my own reflection. People talk big about this, new terminology about sustained development. But when I see [inaudible 18:13], this is the way of…a way of life. Our ancestor, our inheritance of culture here in Bali
Michael: You’re already there.
Suar: Already there! And we’ve been practicing. Then, yeah, that’s why I established the Wisnu Foundation also. And along the way, starting from the waste and now to the community, after the reformation. Community meaning that’s a, because if you see Bali as a Island, small island, you know it’s a very, kind of unique island. And it kind of, what I can say is a pretty small island that can, the Bali island has a four lakes. This is a kind of water reservoir and then rice terraces, so beautiful, beach, mountains, area is so close. It’s kind of really convenient, you know? It’s been a Balinese kind of, it’s a time tunneling me [19:15 ?]. This island is—I’ve been also abroad. To see the island from the distance…yeah, it’s a beautiful place.
It’s a, and also this is a beautiful island. The concept our ancestor kind of managed the island is to apply the concept of Tri Hita Karena. That’s kind of three…make life in balance and prosperous. So this is [tack? 19:54] in every villages. You know, we have 1,493 villages all over Bali, all over. If you see the spatial of Bali, it’s kind of a passel of villages with practices their own…balance concept. Why don’t we try to…now this is the vision of the Wisnu Foundation. Even though we live in the villages which way of our life, practicing the balance of life, and also if we can see now it’s how UNESCO give the outstanding value practices of Subak system in Bali. It’s kind of become, Bali become, the Subak system become World Cultural Heritage.
It’s an outstanding value. Then through that experience and also digesting of the issues of tourism and what we have in Bali, that’s why we more serious to go to the villages, as a kind of way of, kind of rejuvenize kind of energy that already lives in the villages. Because we, the Wisnu Foundation is not a big foundation. It’s just very small foundation. We have limited resources, we have limited, human resources too. But the way we do our vision in the program, through a modeling concept. We do work with, very closely with villages who located in mountainous area and also in the beach area in small island and also very traditional villages, and then the very, the villages that have very unique kind of a local, endemic, production. For instance like a snakeskin fruit, or “salak” in Bali.
So then we have a kind of various model. Then we do hope that this model can be replicate in many villages.
Michael: So this is part of your Community Resource Management program. And you go in to a village and you look at their human capital, land capital, all of the resources, and you help them build models around their traditions. And then you try and replicate that.
Suar: Yeah, [inaudible 22:46] Because we very limited resources, capacity. But the way we do awareness is try to give them the model based on their perception and also we, through the act of participation with the community. So the first method we do is to participatory mapping. Why participatory mapping? Because, if like I mentioned earlier, if you talk about Bali as a small island, has very limited resources, if you develop as a very fast-growing tourist industry, which needs a lot of resources and a lot of consequences, you have to talk with the, if you talk about natural resources, you have to talk about efficiency and effectiveness of the resources. And then along the way, it’s not only the continuous output of production. But you see, you have to think about the ecological integrity. How the balance of nature and activities.
Michael: It’s an entire, living system.
Suar: Yeah. And then also it’s, if you talk about prosperity, and the concept, you have to talk about equity. It’s a…Badung, southern part, northern part, it’s not only the region, but also the people. Then if you talk about the culture in Bali, you have to talk about, you know, there has to be a local participation, because they’re the people who live in the villages, bring the image of the island—become a life, a way of life. It has to be participation. And also we talk about cultural integrity, because, this is the way of life, and living culture.
And okay, like I was saying how the harmony, integration, as a balance, has to become part of the content, in terms of planning.
Michael: But also progress; maju mapan.
Suar: Maju mapan, of course, because this, people these days, one definition of development, you know, what is development then? It has to be a realization of the potential we have. Not only ‘nothing here then everything come [from] outside’ then we disappear, you know?
So then, as a tactical strategy, because this is the concept, actually we have in the Wisnu Foundation. That’s why you work closely with the villages, through the participatory mapping. Normally this is spatial mapping. Because in Bali, you know, every village has their boundaries, spatial boundaries. This is spatial boundaries because the belief in Bali, because in the relationship with human and nature is very closely bounded. Human is a micro-cosmos and nature is micro-cosmos, this is the content of our nature is the same. Now if you go to the social space, the space of living, spatial is boundary. It’s bounded. It’s considered as a wholly cosmic. If you make pollution, and you make bad things in your space, and also you make bad thing in yourself. We have to be aware about our boundary presence. We call it in Tri Hita Karena, “Palemahan.” It’s to do with the space where we are living.
That’s why there is a kind of ritual ceremony, a big ceremony before nyepi normally. There is a, kind of, we call it a, a big ritual of ceremony before nyepi. What is the name? I forgot the name of the nyepi bessar, there is a kind of ogh-ogh, and then a big… (https://bali.com/bali-travel-guide/culture-religion-traditions/nyepi-balinese-new-year/)
Michael: penjor (https://www.nowbali.co.id/penjor-meaning-behind-balis-decorative-bamboo-poles/)
Suar; Penjor is in Galungan. (https://www.balitravelhub.com/events/galungan/)
So that’s a in-tune way of life, and a cyclic way of life, of belief, of ritual thing. Then, through the, well if I talk about the history of introducing participatory mapping in the villages, it’s a quite, you know from a very conventional way of doing it. Until now, we’re dealing with a very sophisticated [inaudible 27:56], you know? Formerly we use a very simple thing. For instance we use a long tape, and then also we use, we call it, the compass, and then also, in 19…we started actually in 1999.
Michael: Paper maps…
Suar: Yeah, paper maps, millimeter block, we put in that, and then digitize again, and then through the computerize. That takes time. And it’s beyond, beyond awareness of the local people. Because we introduce, why, why did we do that kind of, kind of useless work at that time? But some approaches like from heart-to-heart with the resource person in the village, that’s respective, all this, the respective people in the villages. Then this is kind of understanding that spread to the younger generation. And then we have a local, young generation to work with us, to help us.
And then it takes, it’s different on the space, it’s a spatial, the area actually, it’s sometimes we take three months, six months, year, doing the mapping. And then through, along the way we actually got a lot of sharing between the young generation and the old generation, where’s the area of the, for instance like the village of Tanganan, why we have this area? Oh, there was a story behind it, and then along the way how they actually taking the boundaries, you know there’s a kind of symbol of a nature boundaries, the tree, what the meaning of it…
It’s kind of a life-education from the old to the young generation. Then along the way also we do a kind of participatory, rapid appraisal. We put in a database of social-cultural of the villages. Then, by the end, you know, we talk with the villages: ‘In the near-future, you will see your village and the people in different ways.’ Like, how you see in the web, and then the Internet, the Internet thing at that time was just ‘beyond.’ And then after finish that data we put on the database, on the web, on the, digital thing, then we watch what they’ve been doing with the villages together. ‘This your work. This is going to be seen by people all over the world using internet.’ And they say ‘wow! This is my village.’ That is triggering life energy, to the villages, to the young generation: ‘This is my village.’
Michael: And not only is it something they can look at and remember, but you document and archive their traditions and also take that information, the mapping and everything, all of that data to the government, and you work with the government to get money and grants, is that correct?
Suar: Well in the sense, limited to the government. This is mostly for the donor who actually has same intention for the people; environmental issues and social issues. So that’s why we formulate our idea and also propose for the funding. Because this takes time, involving people. And then also need the logistics.
Michael: Plus you need specialized expertise, you need people who can…
Suar: Yeah, so the way we do it, actually, is we got the network for the mapping expertise, we have a training of trainers for the time-being. We got [training] first and we also got the training for the community organizing, see all concepts how actually we organize the mind of the people toward the goal we set up together along the way. And then afterword, when we got that kind of expertise, we continue to the community—how we organize the, spreading ideas.
Even though it’s not so easy, actually. Buy-in ideas, you know, it’s a…when we talk about the future, the sustainable development, it’s a different level. If you talk about from the stomach to the concept ideas, you know? It takes time, actually, for many suspicious comment, things, that villages actually put on our work. You know that’s whether you’re part of our investor, part of the broker, part of the, you know, you want to buy the land, you know, many things.
But it was lucky, you know? At that time you work with the young generation who has no, not clear job in the villages. It’s kind of a marginalized young generation. We talk like this, and then discuss. And they have time. They have energy. It’s no one in the village, and then in the end, until up to now, I can see, most of our, what you call it, our young generation who, we develop their capacity, become a, a kind of young generation who now become the leader of the village.
Michael: Yeah, and that’s perfect.
Suar: They got information. They got knowledge. They got capacity. They know people. They know the concept. And then they become the leader of the villages. That’s…
Michael: They’re more connected as well. Traditionally the older generation was less connected. As the island has grown and matured with tourism, it becomes more connected.
Suar: Yeah. Absolutely right. Now from the Wisnu Foundation perspective, this is our school. It’s a living school. It’s a chapter-by-chapter, different village, different village. Different chapter, you know? Because the character in Bali, even though we can say it, Bali is kind of, [inaudible 35:10] island, it’s a very small island. But if you go deeper, every village has different way of dealing with their nature and culture. You know it’s very unique, actually. Even though this neighborhood, this villages, for instance, like, I can mention about Tanganan village in the eastern part of Bali, and just next in Sibutan, just next by village. It’s very different.
Tanganan is very traditional village who has a different way of managing their own space, their own forest, their own rice field, their own culture, they have a customary law. It’s very, they have a different structure of, you know, managing their village, the power. They have their own way of weaving, traditional weaving, double ikat [https://www.inbali.org/balis-rarest-textiles/], double tie, it’s very difficult.
Next to the village is Sibutan. Which normally just produce the salak [a fruit], it’s different way. It’s very interesting. For us it’s really ‘wow, this is kind of a downloading a new creative way along the way, community dealing with their own nature and culture.”
Michael: I like the way you explained it: ‘Wisnu is your school,’ for you, as the student.
Suar: Yeah, for me, and spread with the staff normally and the community. This is my school.
Michael: It’s an amazing opportunity.
Suar: My living school.
Michael: It’s very cool. And so fast forward; you’ve got now, you’re doing coffee work as part of it and, so what do you do with villages as far as coffee production, working with that in addition to, like you do ecotourism, and kind of connected with the coffee?
Suar: Well, you know it’s, if we try to bound the concept approaching of the Wisnu Foundation, we not only dealing with the spatial, but we deal with the database of the, for instance like, what kind of natural resources to support that life? This is about the sustainable livelihood within the villages, you know? We identify natural resources that belong to the villages, privately or communal or communal way.
And then second idea, we identify about the human resources; what kind of talent they have, music, dance, craft, you know, it’s innovation in the village.
And then we also deal with the social capital, you know, what kind of thing, it’s a very, kind of like a big temple. ‘How? How can villages develop this kind of artistic and very nice temple?’ You know this social issue. They do it gotong royong, we call it in Indonesia. Everybody can giving what they have, you know it’s kind of a sharing.
We also have identify about the kind of infrastructure they use to run the mechanism of social issues. For instance, like a Bali Banjar, we call it, hamlet, where they actually has a place of meeting, how they make a decision, and then, you know, how they make a plan…
Michael: They’re social organization.
Suar: Social organization. It’s Subak…, you know? And also if we go to the Subak how actually the infrastructure of the [irrigation] conduit, everything is, so much knowledge. So much knowledge. It’s very, sometimes amazing, you’re like ‘wow!’ This is the knowledge, actually. Even though if you go to the mountainous area, how the local people, at that time, with very limited technology, they make like a tunnel, to connect one source of water to the villages. You know, wow!
Yeah, and they say, you know, and also that’s how, if you talk about the economic thing, the money management, how actually, it’s a, they manage the foundation in the local, how they have a local group managing their own activities, money distribution, how the saving concept, from the cattle, pig, chicken, and everything. That’s become our source of data. So this is the kind of concept and local people, they manage their own sustainable, livelihood. It’s connection between the human and nature, human time and space. This is what we put on the database of the villages.
Then, if you want to come to the tourism industry, this is your village, this is your resources, this is data, this is your nature and culture. How you think about the tourism industry in Bali? Even though everybody in the village they want tourism industry, but what kind of tourism does in your imagination?
Michael: Yeah, what does it look like?
Suar: Yeah, what does it look like? The tourism image is very various. Clean energy, clean industry and a very smiling industry, and everything is glitter. But when you go beyond it, you can see, there is also issue on conflict of interest in terms of land usage, water, everything.
Then we took our villages to the hotel, to the Nusa Dua, the Kuta. ‘Do you like this?’ Nusa Dua. ‘Like this?’ Or some like, places like a big project. Then we talk to gather with them analyzing about the needs of the tourists. How the investment flows actually. Foreign investment dumped here in Bali, they make their own hotel, own restaurant, a travel agent. And all the money back to the original country. What’d you get? That is a perspective. In terms of water use, compare your use with the hotel use. What you got actually? And then it broadens the perspective and then experience. And they decided, ‘okay, if you are interested in running a tourism industry, whether you like the thing like Nusa Dua, Kuta, Sanur, Do you have that kind of stuff? Or you have already [inaudible 42:25] in the villages?’ If you compare Nusa Dua and your village, it’s the same resort. Nusa Dua is only build a hotel, become resort. Here you have a big resort already. You have houses. You have beautiful environment. You have nice people. You have culture, everything. Doesn’t matter how you now relate that kind of thing into your village. If you have spare houses, or spare room, you can make a guest house, or space. If you want to do activities, don’t have, don’t do artificial thing like the hotel. You have your own culture.
Michael: Scale it into what you have.
Suar: Scale it up. Yeah, then become what, that’s why the decision become ‘well we can make a village ecotourism, ecotourism, village ecotourism. But because we deal mainly with many villages, so we can network. So because each own village has their uniqueness, different uniqueness. So that’s why we do a network. Those who are interest in learning something or experiencing something, we can connect. For a mountainous area, or cultural villages, or beach area. So that we tailor made the concept of those tourists who interested knowing the villages, so that you can make many packages within your villages.
Michael: I think that’s very forward-thinking. Like, if you think about how Covid has impacted the tourist industry in Bali, and some of the ways the Balinese governor wants to react… After the loss of so many tourists, so many Balinese got to remember what it was like before tourism was so big. And in a way, they kind of got the island back, right? So now people can see ‘well maybe we don’t need to scale it up so big. And maybe we can keep it smaller and look for a better quality tourist, than having so many poor quality tourists.’
Suar: Yeah, it’s, if we can reflect, after more than 25 years, I mean that’s a, well the words of “quality tourism” and “interest tourism” we can kind of feel it, you know? Along the way actually, it’s very difficult to by-in ideas of that. Because we against the mass tourism, which people want to get the fast money. We can feel it, quite difficult actually. And people, local people also, it’s a hesitate for what we have been doing.
It’s almost no time to talk about that kind of stuff. Even though it’s, you know we do understand about the time concept in Bali also. If you deal with tourism industry, because ‘time is money,’ in traditionalist, time is not merely money, because we have many things, a spectrum of the time.
Michael: This is something that I want to talk more about, because you talked about this with me a while ago, and I find it a fascinating topic.
The last time we met, another gentleman came and he was talking about, I believe he was talking about, he worked with men and suicide. And you or he were talking about how difficult it was, the clash or the contact between the Western concept of time and the Balinese concept of time, and how its difficult for the Balinese to incorporate the rigidity and the structured-ness of the Western notion of time: ‘time is money.’
Suar: Yeah, in the big word, ‘time is money’ it’s so much conflict in managing the life.
Michael “You’re late!”
Suar: Being a Balinese, if you see the calendar, the Balinese calendar is different than the Gregorian calendar, yeah?
Michael: Very much.
Suar: You can see the when they’re off here, here is not the day off, you’re more busy here. And then it’s spending of money, time is different—how split? If you are not mature enough, in managing your psychology, you get mad. And then in the end you can suicide. That’s the fact, from the statistics that I got from a friend of mine who deal with that. The rate of suicide in Bali is increase. Even though it’s in many countries also got the same issue. It’s an issue also.
Back again to the one of, for instance, commodity that we deal with like kopi (coffee). Because we identify what kind of resources or commodity, which identified in the villages, this becomes a support of your way of life or livelihood.
For instance, like Plaga, we deal with Plaga. And they produce kopi. Kopi has become a major kind of crop for them. And then kopi become a kind of product that they can treat as a savings. When they need it they just, they sell it.
Michael: Sell a bag of beans when you need some money…
Suar: Yes, it’s a kind of management. Then we try to approach. Or if so, the way we do it actually, we discuss and then we discuss about the value, the commodity, because this is the main thing; it has to remain constant also.
And then the process of, and then we discuss about how, what kind of clone you plant here, how to harvest, how the treatment, everything. What are the costs, the issues you are facing along the way. Then we got some information and at least from the small, limited scale, limited expertise also. At least we’ve got information, you know? Everyone wants to increase the value of your kopi. Then you can treat your own soil better, and then trimming better, and then pick up red cherries part, and then you treat it like this.
Michael: Step by step…
Suar: Step by step and then that’s, from a small Calle it makes sense for them. And then we practice that kind of stuff. And then from the process of the coffee, it’s proven that the taste of the coffee is better and the value and appreciation is better. Then we try to connect production of coffee from Plaga to our network in the villages.
So it already responds quite good, because it’s good coffee, it tastes better, even though it’s not perfect, it’s already better quality.
That’s why next we develop the village economic network. And then we can from Plaga, coffee will go barter to Tanganan, Tanganan produces a lot of rice to connect them.
Michael: So they start trading…
Suar: Yeah. The issue for us as a small NGO is distribution is not a simple thing. We have to do good analysis. But in the end we cannot because it’s very limited commodity, it doesn’t work. But even though the appreciation is already there. For instance, like in Tanganan they have 250 hectare of rice fields, which they can produce their own rice…the village is already self-sufficient. They have a surplus. This kind of surplus they can manage as an economic value.
And then we also introduce how to make a green, organic rice. We introduced the micro-hydro, because they have a good micro-hydro rice huller. In the concept, technically it’s okay but to maintain this as a way of life and how the management work well among village, it’s not simple.
Michael: No. But you’re…it’s fascinating that you’re taking pieces of knowledge, you’re recording it, you’re learning it and you’re recording it, you’re archiving it. But then you’re sharing it. So you’re transferring knowledge from one village to another. So if one village produces rice better you’re able to take that as a package, so-to-speak of knowledge and share it with somebody else.
Suar: Yeah, that’s the idea for us to be connected. But for the community whether it’s practical solution or profitable for them, is enough for them, that’s another story. Even though here, we are sitting in the place I call it Geo-open space, because this is the kind of ideas to connect agriculture stuff to the industry stuff, for example the tourism industry. Because behind me is Kuta—we deal with the stomach and the ‘ready to drink and ready to eat.’ This is production for a producer for mostly agricultural production. This place is kind of leveling up. How we actually connect from the producer to the consumer.
This is an idea; how we do a kind of exhibition here, we connect from the producer from villages and then also the customer from hotel, everything. And then if this kind of connection agreeable, and we can make a consistent kind of consensus, we can make a kind of agreement.
But still this is a concept, but for me, the infrastructure is already here. We’re slowly practicing. Now if we talk about coffee, same thing. From how we actually develop the coffee quality, coffee production, coffee processing in the village. And then next we have a school of coffee here to save the kind of appreciation, the quality, a Q-grader of the coffee. And then how we connect to the buyers?
So this is a concept of traceability. And then chains of custody. Because so far we deal with, being a farmer is always marginalized, poor, got nothing or with the middle person who’s got the most…
Suar: Traceability. There is a kind of [inaudible 54:54] We can develop the platform through the IOT, Internet of Things, we can connect it. So that’s why this is a place of villages we think that’s, geographical information, IG, Indication of Geographies. Even though through the concept of government is more beauracratic thing. But even now we can develop from community or villages, this can be actualized, because those farmer who are understand about the concept, the connection, the traceability, we can connect them to the ‘Net. Then they can become, got an advantage of what they’ve been doing through their farming, to keep the quality, everything.
Michael: They become a part of the program, a part of the system. They’re less isolated.
Suar: Absolutely. And then the digital is really accurate. The concept of digital can do it very detailed. How you can through the platform, how the buyer appreciate the farmer if they want to give a bonus, everything. The farmer understands about that part and also how we appreciate buyers who actually give a donation. Everything, it’s all in the point, everything is very helpful.
So that’s why, even though I developed the Geo-coffee; the concept of how you connect from the space of living, where people work, to the world. Slow the technology, I can see; this is connecting. That’s why this is going to be a good way of make a fair trade, make a fair living, from the buyer to the consumer, everything.
Michael: It’s bringing the Tri Hita Karena into it; it’s the balance, you have the balance with the
Suar: yeah, that’s the thing, you know? It’s how to implement the outstanding value into the reality. Even though we are very remote in the villages, you can connect to people who are interested in your product all over the world.
Michael: Right. I think that’s something that’s unique to producing countries like Indonesia or or Colombia or any of the others. Where people who live in the country are so geographically, spatially close to the producers that it facilitates that much better.
Suar: Absolutely, absolutely. We in Indonesia are made up of biodiversity, you can see it. We have almost everything. But just to need the mechanism of how to connect this into the world, I mean that’s not more merely for the appropriate’s sake, this is kind of a human-kind prosperity.
Michael: Yeah, we need to add meaning to it.
Suar: Yeah, absolutely. If you deal with the mechanism of capitalism, for instance like you profile the patent, everything, while this kind of indication, the indication is also one of the, can be individual patent (?), because everybody, personally, every farmer can develop their own product. But because they live in the communal space, so this is kind of a communal property right, there has communal contribution. Because they not only, when they grow coffee they not only live for the sake of coffee, but they are socially connected.
So the village of the coffee thing, they can be part of them, a very small portion can be put on the idea, become kind of a communal property right, so they can maintain their own way of living and then also continuing.
Michael: That’s a really good point that’s…I’m certainly guilty of this, and I’m sure it’s a popular, it’s a common thing for people in the West, where they think that for coffee farmers, coffee is everything. ‘There’s a farmer over there in Indonesia, and I’m in the U.S., and all he cares about is the coffee that he’s growing.’ And it’s not the case.
Suar: Yeah, it’s, in Bali it’s not single thing as stand alone. We are connecting. And we are in the diverse, diversity country, and it’s [inaudible 59:47] biodiversity. And if you think about the biodiversity. If you see the ocean, the forest…
Michael: Yeah, mountains. You have it all.
Suar: I used to work five years with the biodiversity foundation, I got this kind of information, like ‘wow, this is a basis of living, we can feel the world if we connecting here and there.’ It’s not greedy thing. You see what’s there, what you need, and then it’s not a fair kind of relationship. It has to be the proportional.
Michael: It put’s a new meaning to ‘value chain.’ It puts value and meaning in the chain. The network.
Suar: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a kind of, I said ‘that a long way, 28 years ago,’ it’s not long, you know? But it’s a school of living, at least for myself, and the staff here in Bali and the community. We spread the ideas, connecting ideas, even though it’s, the [inaudible 1:01:37] but it has to be a system now to help connecting them. And everybody can see it. This is technology. That’s why now is the time, go to the platform concept, and every chain, every stakeholder, they can connect the value.
Michael: Is the program popular with the farmers? The technology aspect, and the connectedness of it. Is that popular with the farmers?
Suar: There has to be a [evolution], it’s not only, we deal with many stakeholders. Different. If you go to school sometimes, school perception sometimes different, if you go to government, government perception is different.
Michael: Different institutions.
Suar: Different interests. The community, we can say it’s not that far, but at least they do understand about what kind of work hard the put on their [inaudible] producing thing. But it’s still not balanced.
I used to do a kind of village accounting; demand and supply, it’s not balanced.
Michael: It’s binary; two.
Suar: Yeah. It’s not balanced. How can you live with balance like that? With the concept of profit is finished, balance? You can produce for instance like coffee; you can produce coffee once a year. How much coffee can you produce? If you calculate, it’s not balanced. This has to be a mechanism to give them [inaudible 1:02:56]. ‘I want to be a coffee farmer. I have the face of plan like this. I can produce this quality. I can show if you connect this…their committed to make a best quality of the coffee.’ And then you can do a competition. Because I’m sure in the villages, farmer in Bali is very diligent. And also art. You know, how they share the love to their own rice field, or nature.
And also this, we have a ritual for that, how we respect the nature, the plantation…
Michael: Yeah, Indonesia itself is very, is still very agrarian. But then the Balinese a special, mystical spiritual connection with nature on top of the agrarian-ness of Indonesia. And it’s an interesting connection.
Suar: Yeah, absolutely. Because you know, the Balinese, we humanize the nature. We are the same. There’s a tree. You bring us oxygen. Then we, it’s kind of always, it’s…
We’ve been told that this is our first brother actually. They can not move, they grow, they bring everything for us.
And then second brother is the animals. And then we are, declare ourselves as super human, you know, but not really super actually.
Michael: I remember when we were, one time we were sitting up in Geocafe and you told me “I grew up with this tree.” And that’s an interesting phrase to use: ‘I grew up with this tree.’ Because in the West, we don’t necessarily say that that tree’s been…we’ve might say the tree’s been in the family, but it’s not the same as saying “this is a brother of mine.” Or “I grew up with this tree.”
Suar: Yeah, it’s, that’s why this different culture, different way of life in Bali, you know because, like if you are in Bali, now you are in Bali, there’s so many offerings. Offering in Bali is kind of appreciation, “bhakti” we call it. But the material of offering is connected to nature.
Michael: Flowers, rice…
Suar: Flowers, coconut leaf, because you know, even the tuak and arak, tusks come from palm leaf, everything is all connecting.
Because we deal with the same major element of the, of ourself and nature. We have pertiwi or earth, all solid stuff, we have apah, is we have water; liquid stuff, we have teja; we have light, sun, we have wayu; we have air, everything, and we have space. So there’s the major content of ourself, micro and macro is the same thing. If we are too greedy, exploit…explore first then exploit then we exploit ourselves. That’s the balance concept we inherited from our ancestor.
That’s why, being a local people is, and see the context of the…they manage the, they carve the nature, how they are in tune with the nature, this is advance [inaudible 1:6:35].
Michael: It keeps you mindful. It keeps you aware of what you’re doing. When, at our house in Jimbaran we needed to cut down a tree, a big tree, and there had to first be a ceremony, an offering to the tree. And that slows things down that keeps you aware that you’re cutting down that’s been here for years and like you say, it’s full of resources, it’s a part of this same system we’re a part of.
Suar: Yeah, that’s mostly I’ve been doing with the Wisnu Foundation nowadays, yeah, try to at least in my mind and also systematically way of thinking actually is how actually we connects from one locus, next chain, one chain-to-chain, and connecting and work out.
It’s a, well we can say a kind of big project. But it’s not so big, actually. It’s here it’s connecting.
Michael: I think you’re being modest. I think it is a big program. How many villages do you work with?
Suar: For the time-being, more than 20 villages, almost 30 actually, all over Bali.
Michael: That’s great.
Suar: Yeah, at least we have different, different type of villages and nowadays we work very closely with four villages. It’s considers of a indigenous community in Tamblingan, because they very respect their forest. They call it utang mertajati. It’s a really…mertajati is a zen of life, the forest of Asian, of their life, because they can the concept of water, the Tamblingan, and also they have the one 1,300 forest. Now we try to make advocation, to bring it back, their forest from the government.
Michael: Is this the one that you mention on the website where, I think there’s a CNN video where they actually worked for a long time to get the forest recognized by the government?
Suar: Yeah, that’s Tamblingan and also, the CNN is Tenganan Pegringsingan. This is another one, because this forest is already managed by the government. We would like to take out, and then this is the communal, kind of community forest.
Michael: Yeah, I toured some farms in, I think it was in Sumatra, and the coffee farms were on national land, national park lands. And they were in this massive rubber tree forest, it was beautiful. But because it was all government-owned all of the farmers had to pay 15, 20% of their harvest every year to the government.
Suar: Yeah, there are many schemes of the government now in terms of their renewing the management of the forest. There’s a social forest, this is traditional village forest, like Tanganan, which is within the boundaries of the villages, traditional villages. They have their own small, small forest.
So this is a, they’ve been contributing the oxygen [inaudible 1:20:19] system, to the area, been so many years. Now the government has to be recognize them. You know, what kind of program, everything.
And there also forests that used to belong to, I mean belong to the community, occupied by the government, how they take it back. And also kind of a hutan desa, village forest, those villages that located just next to the forest. How, instead of the, you know, illegal logging, everything, how the government recognize the, how they can manage the forest.
And also there’s a kind of productive forest, everything. This is the scheme of the forest management by the government. It’s kind of a new way of dealing with the forest. It’s a getting more. Because not all the forest belong to the government, actually. It’s many things like a people, like Papua New Guinea, Kalimantan, Papua, Papua Barat area, and also Kalimantan, Sulawesi, they used to have a traditional forest.
Michael: And this is an issue that’s gonna be more prevalent with the expansion of palm oil industry. When COVID hit, and the Balinese governor said he would like to expand the agriculture industry, my first concern was them bringing palm oil to Bali. Do you think that there’s any possibility of that?
Suar: Better not to expand their palm oil in Bali. We have a very small, nowadays also we got the very hard kind of, how we manage the balance of spatial, of the island. We, as yet to reach the ideal proportion of the forest in Bali. We’re still under the 20% supposed to be the forest covered. But we’re now in 22%, we’re still under. That’s why we promote, how you now determine forest. Because we have a kind of small mosaic forest within the area, for instance like.
This is a kind of concept in Balinese. That if you deal with the rice field, they always, within the rice field there’s a kind of mosaic of the small forest. Because this is a, maintains a food chain, you know? When they’re harvesting, the bird goes to the forest, and then get nesting, and then the snake there, everything, you know it’s kind of cyclic.
Now, by the modern way of life, way of thoughts, and then you go there and make a villa there, yeah, your friend is a mouse, a snake, everything, because this is the habitat of them. You know, in the mosaic of the, ecological mosaic of the rice fields. It’s not only the rice, but there’s also the river, the…
Michael: It’s a full ecosystem.
Suar: Yeah, it’s an ecosystem. And ritually, we have a kind of, we call it [inaudible 1:13:57] how we plant rice, the crops, you know, how to, to cut the pests, cyclic. I think it’s, with traditional way of doing things, they know. They live with the nature, they live with the snake, they live with the mouse. The thing is how this, yeah. It’s super-human how they can manage that. It’s not super-human how just killed them. You killed them and then you cut the chains and you got the massive pests. You know, it’s been true along the way.
Michael: It’s that natural tension that we want between the brakes or the slowing down of traditional, conservative way of life, and also you want the pull or the acceleration of progress and change and development. But you need to find that balance between the two, where you’re not going in and clearing out huge amounts of forests in order to develop some agricultural product.
Suar: Absolutely, because you know it’s a…The culture of Bali is not static. You know, it’s the change. So that’s why now it’s the time to, to shift to the next balance. Because the, in that sense, how we, you know, and we, Our ancestor has already proven their way of life to do a, what’s you call it, acculturation about the new thing, through creative way of expressing it.
You know it’s now just a matter of how actually, even though we overwhelmed with the various information, to develop way of thinking toward the next balance of living, because we connect, we open opportunity to the world, it has to be a new way of communication, new way of connecting.
This we need; way of, maybe way of communication, method of communication, a new narrative. So that’s, even though you live in the village, you know that you’re part of a dot, connected to the world.
Michael: And I think it interesting the way you frame it as the ‘next balance.’ It’s, you put a book-end to it. It’s like a chapter in a book, or a book-end on a shelf. And you say ‘okay, we have a delineation here, and the next balance is what do we do next?’
So what do you see with the villages you work with and the impact of COVID, Coronavirus, what do you see as the next balance? What would you like to see?
Suar: Well, yeah, this is kind of the dynamic of, it’s a big lesson for Bali actually. Even though the trigger of tourism industry is speeding up kind of way of life. And then all of a sudden stuck. The nature the culture in Bali is not frozen, in a freeze, you know? This is dynamic.
I mean that, the elasticity and also the, what’s you call it the, resilience of the structure of our culture in Bali, even though Bali is the big hit on economic, construction in Bali is the lowest, we are at minus 12% of development and economic. But village, village culture is still a home for us to [inaudible 1:18:32] things again, to think about the next shifting of balance.
Michael: You had a contraction. So you had, like my wife works with the, she’s the general manager of a hotel. And so she has employees who aren’t necessarily from Kuta, they’re from villages around Kuta. And when employment got tough, when they had to start telling people ‘we don’t, we can’t employ you full-time,’ there was this expansion kind of, away from Kuta of those people, they went back to their home village. It was, it’s interesting you talk about the speed before COVID and the speed afterwords. And so she saw a lot of people going back to farming, going back to working with the family because you have the extended family living at home.
Suar: Yeah, it’s a, that means village is still their, their home. If you’re very stressed in Denpassar, that is still home their. I can see that this is a kind of mechanism that’s been developed to deal with the issues and then they make the resilience of their life is still in the villages, the home town we call it, or back to the villages.
If they’re keen enough to see the spending living in the urban compared to the village. They can see you know you have to rent a house here, transportation, communication now about city and the villages is the same, you know. Source of food, you know? Come to the village, you know you get it fresh, some still organic, and then you don’t have to buy. It’s stressful in the city. Lose the job, there is still hope in the mechanism of the community.
And they’re living in the community still. It’s a kind of sharing, like a social capital, like that. It’s still there.
Michael: I heard some interesting stories along those lines. It might have been around an eruption, maybe Agung, and the people who were nearest to the mountain had to flee away from it, and the neighboring communities took them in, shared the resources that they had, and so there wasn’t this massive stress on the government per se, to help people out, because the people were already being helped out by the smaller communities, the smaller Banjar.
Suar: That’s kind of a local and social setting. It’s quite, for me it’s quite futuristic, in terms of, because they do understand about the nature of our country, the nature of the island, is many kind of social, disasters, everything, you know it’s…
The setting of every villages, every temple, every communal houses, you know it’s, if there is a disaster, it’s kind of open; this is your place, temporary to shelter, everything, it’s…instead of bringing big tent, everything we are here and there. It’s difficult. Now in Bali it’s, sometime they have a family here in Denpassar come by, and then stay for a while and then go back. That’s kind of setting, I think it’s very dynamic.
Michael: It’s very social. And it’s very open.
Suar: Yeah, in that sense, yeah.
Michael: And I wonder how much of it is tied to ego and trust, right? So I think about in the West, when that happens, something like that happens, there’s some trust issues, you think about, like I try to put myself in the shoes of somebody who is receiving another family into my home the trust issue. It’s a very personal and intimate; my home space. And I wonder how much of that is related to that ego and trust.
Suar: Well I think it’s a culturally speaking, as long as do, they still do believe on the karmic system. Karma palah. It’s that. I don’t know the younger generation wether, how, because of school of thoughts now, what they can get from the school is different. It’s not merely the value of the culture you know. This is just a mechanism dealing with the knowledge, the time, the technology. That’s why I mention about this; we need the shifting of balance. And doesn’t mean it’s a single kind of shifting. This is kind of an intricate, complex system.
Yeah, for me, myself, as long as we still stick on the karma concept, we do believe we live only a short time so we can do a good thing, because we benefit in the reincarnation. It’s not once life, you know? Well it probably, this is kind of a good karma, we can do for the next life.
If that kind of concept of living is still there, I think it’s a, well the sharing is part of that.
Michael: Yeah that could be something, that could be Bali’s contribution to the world through tourism is sharing that karmic way. Exposing the tourists who come here from the West, from wherever, that they don’t necessarily have that in their day-to-day life, and to see it. And to understand. They may not necessarily have to agree with it, but they can see the benefits of it. And they can say ‘well, maybe I can incorporate some of that into my life moving forward.’
Suar: Yes. So this kind of a, from Bali, small island, what value can be shared to the world. For instance like, well, when I showed the movie of coffee, the lockdown, I remember we used to [inaudible 1:25:37] when the United Nations funds work on climate change. We tried to introduce Bali has the mechanism of Nyepi. One day full, 24 hours we cut down, at least we calculated it from the access Gilimanuk harbor and also Padang Bay, Benoa and also use of traffic, everything. 22,000 tons of CO2 cut one day. You know, it’s why don’t we try, it’s a, we need a rest, nature also has the mechanism, mechanism to rest.
You know, this kind of stuff, you know it’s from the small island, I think it’s a, if you want to see deeply, contemplate, it’s something there.
Michael: Yeah, it’s a good message. Very good message.
Suar: Something we can learn and share.
Michael: Well thank you very much. I appreciate this. This has been incredibly enlightening.
Suar: My pleasure. This is kind of karmic kind of conversation. Why don’t, why do actually have now, before COVID, after COVID?
We’ve been trying to make many kind of time to discuss, to share, yeah, you take YouTube and everything, but cancel. And now happening.
Michael: Yeah, it’s tough. You know you have schedules. It kind of goes back to what we were talking about where the rigidity and the structure of the Western life versus the openness, the flexibility of the Balinese life. That’s absolutely what we ran into. And then COVID.
Suar: I appreciate that.
Michael: Thank you very much. It was really good.
Suar: Yeah, good.
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