As an ever-increasing amount of Bali’s farmland is being converted into hotels, resorts and other tourism-related infrastructure, one project is taking a more sustainable approach to tourism on the island.
Desa Wisata Ekologis Nyambu, or the Nyambu Village Ecotourism Project, which was launched in April this year, aims to show tourists the traditional side of Bali while building the capacity of local people and stimulating economic growth at the village level. Developed over 18 months, the community-based project is the result of a collaboration between the local administration, Yayasan Wisnu, PT Langgeng Kreasi Jayaprima, Diageo and the British Council.
Nestled around 15 minutes from the temple of Tanah Lot and around an hour from the airport, Nyambu has a huge tourism potential due to its ecological and historical appeal. “Nyambu is a truly unique village, with 67 temples lying within its 380 hectares. The village still maintains 61 percent of its land area as rice fields and protects its 22 natural springs, even though it is fairly close to urban areas,” says Ari Sutani, senior programme manager at the British Council, who is involved in the project.
The village has a long history and boasts 67 Hindu temples, some of which were built between the 8th century Kediri Kingdom and the 13th century Majapahit era. “The oldest temples include Pura Bale Agung and several other smaller temples. There are several temples from the Majapahit era, such as Pura Rsi and Pura Wisesa, as well as temples from the post-Majapahit period, such as Pura Agung Majapahit,” Sutani says.
With such a rich selection of attractions, it is not difficult to see why Nyambu would be of interest to tourists. In fact, the village is a stone’s throw away from a road that has recently seen an increase in development, leaving the village vulnerable to urbanization. However, the village’s residents, who are determined not to let industrialization and tourism invade their farmlands, have decided to opt for a more sustainable approach to tourism than many others on the island.
Significantly, customary village law (awig-awig) in Nyambu makes it very difficult to change the function or ownership of farmland, thus protecting the village’s culture and traditional way of life. A lengthy study is required before a shift in the function of land is allowed. “This traditional local wisdom is upheld by the community of Nyambu to preserve and protect their village and its culture,” Sutani says. “The awig-awig of each village in Bali can be completely different so this is definitely something that can play a big role in protecting Nyambu from overdevelopment.”
Sutani says that the British Council has been working with the representatives of six banjar who have expressed an interest in developing community-based tourism in Nyambu. They have started by organizing seminars, workshops and internships to build the capacity of Nyambu’s residents to take over the management of the village’s tourism ventures themselves within the next one and a half years. The project aims to increase Nyambu’s income by realizing the potential of the area in terms of natural resources, cultural appeal, and artistic and creative endeavours, all without destroying it in the process.
A large part of the project involves tours and activities run by the village’s residents, including visits to paddy fields and an explanation of subak, the centuries-old irrigation system, a walk down the village’s history lane and a painting workshop run by local artists.
“Nyambu is of historical importance because it is said to have been visited by Dang Hyang Nirartha, a priest from the Majapahit Kingdom, who came to the village to strengthen the teachings of Hinduism,” Sutani says. “During the visit, tourists are given the opportunity to visit Nyambu’s main temples and learn about Dang Hyang Nirartha’s journey.”
In light of the current overdevelopment of Bali, it is important that the island’s residents are provided with more opportunities and room to develop community-based tourism that they own and manage collectively, as they are the ones who know best what their strengths are in terms of culture, nature and tradition.
Sutani believes that mass tourism very often leads to environmental degradation due to the demand for additional infrastructure, which in turn affects culture and local wisdom. “This means that many tourists do not experience the real Bali and that the local cultures are gradually eroded,” he says.
The Nyambu Village project hopes to contribute to the development of sustainable tourism in Bali as it maximizes the existing potential of the village in a sustainable way. Sutani concludes,
“It has been great to see the villages’ residents mapping and planning a tourism venture that fits their unique needs and expectations.”
Subak is an ecologically sustainable system of water management and rice cultivation that has existed in Bali for over 1,000 years. The system, which was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in June 2012, is as complex as it is ingenious and combines irrigation technology, spiritual practices and community involvement.
Exemplifying the Balinese concept of Tri Hita Karana, the philosophy that highlights the importance of a harmonious relationship between humans, the Earth and the gods, subak are groups of farmers who share the same water source. The farmers meet on a regular basis to collectively decide how their water will be distributed (the amount of water allotted to each member is proportional to their obligations and involvement), as well as the timing of planting and type of rice to be grown.
The irrigation system usually consists of five terraces and water temples, with the water distributed between the different levels. The water is channelled from lakes, rivers and springs through specifically designed tunnels. To ensure plentiful harvest, the farmers hold regular rituals to pay their respects to Dewi Sri, the goddess of prosperity and fertility.