- The town of Sibetan on the Indonesian island of Bali is famous for its organic snake fruit, known locally as salak.
- But after each bi-annual harvest, farmers face falling salak fruit prices due to oversupply.
- Salak farmer Made Surjani says that visitors can see local agroforestry practices, but that Siberian farmers see themselves as farmers first and foremost.
DENPASAR, Indonesia — People in the Sibetan village got used to wearing face masks before the coronavirus pandemic shut down Bali’s tourism industry for two years and killed more than 4,000 people on the Hindu-majority island.
In 2017, families rushed to evacuation shelters after Bali’s Mount Agung erupted just 10 kilometers (6 miles) away from the village in Karangasem district, covering farmers’ homes and fields. with thick ash. The town government responded by distributing dust masks.
Snake fruit, known locally as Salak, was one of the few trees to reliably bear fruit after the 2017 eruption. The salak tree also withstood a catastrophic eruption in 1963, which killed up to 1,500 people. Today, in Sibetan, farmers are taking advantage of the island’s newly reopened tourism industry to boost income from their local agroforestry system, in which the hardy salak tree is a mainstay.
“We are not going to change to become a tourist attraction,” said Made Sujana, one of the pioneers of salak cultivation in the area. “We are still farmers.”
Sujana, known locally as Jro Dukuh Sakti, was so influential in introducing salak into local agroforestry practices that the neighborhood is commonly known as the Dukuh neighborhood.
Agroforestry is an environmentally positive land management practice with proven benefits for income generation and food security. A 2021 study published in the journal Agroforestry Systems identified a range of benefits from agroforestry in Indonesia, including a 20% increase in nutritional diversity.
On an online tour of Sibetan in May, as travel restrictions began to ease, Sujana presented a glass of salak wine and showed off her technique of cracking open the scaly fruit, applying precise pressure with the palm of her hand before removing the skin. .
Twenty years ago, Sibetan and three other rural areas in Bali joined with the Wisnu Foundation to form Jaringan Ekowisata Desa (Village Ecotourism Network). The idea was to cultivate community-owned ecotourism stays in one of the world’s most sought-after tourist destinations (more than 6 million people flew into Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport in 2019, a year before the pandemic closed the airport to almost all tourist arrivals).
There are no fewer than 15 species of salak planted among coconut palms and other fruit trees in Siberia. A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Community Service Learning recorded a total planting area of 5,000 square meters (nearly 54,000 square feet) in Siberia, containing around 1,200 salak trees.
Farmers here produce about 1.8 metric tons of salak in each bi-annual harvest, a volume so large that it creates a problem: too much of a good thing.
The overharvest distorts market prices so substantially that the price per kilogram plummets from around 5,000 rupees (34 US cents) to just 1,000 rupees (7 US cents), or from 15 cents a pound to 3 cents a pound. pound. Farmers are faced with the choice between selling for pennies on the dollar or watching a mountain of fruit rot in the garden.
Sujana continues to walk along bamboo fences that mark the salak plantation area, where spiky trees grow head-high.
Visitors to Sibetan can stay in a guesthouse run by residents and tour a plantation area where several variants of the salak tree grow in two main groups: the traditional Balinese salak and the sugar salak, which produces smaller fruits.
“[Visitors] you can interact directly with the residents,” says Sujana.
Sugar salak is increasingly grown here because it tastes sweeter. Another variant, salak nanas, is also preferred due to the subtle pineapple aroma. The salak banyan is half the size of other tree species, while the kelapa salak has fewer spines on its stems.
“This one is quite rare in gardens, it doesn’t get planted much,” says Sujana. “It’s mainly sugar salak.”
Connoisseurs of salak, which can be used to make kombucha and wine, will find many other types of fruit in Siberia, each with subtle differences in aroma, flavor, and texture.
As the rainy season begins, farmers in Siberia transform salak into chips and dodola sweet candy-like reduction popular in South and Southeast Asia.
All salak trees in Siberia are grown without chemical fertilizers. Instead, the soil is maintained using compost and manure.
Although the plantation area may look like a monoculture from a distance, the highlands are covered with a variety of fruit trees: coconut, sugar palm, mangosteen, white mango, langsat, gowok Y melinjo.
This agroforestry setting helps maintain the nearby Moding spring, which is operated by the regional government-owned water company. Balinese Hindus use a separate water source at the nearby Beji temple for sacred rites.
In Siberia, seasonal agricultural rhythms are mixed with devotion. Leaves of a sacred sugar palm (harangue pinata) are used in ceremonies. Sibetan residents also consider the tree to provide a buffer against landslides and a guardian of the water source.
Jaringan Ekowisata Desa, the tourism cooperative, started two decades ago with a handful of pioneer villages like Sibetan. The organization now offers cultural and educational tours of a dozen communities in Bali hidden from the glare of the island’s more familiar tourist attractions.
Sujana, a salak pioneer from Sibetan, says visitors are more than welcome, but Sibetan will always see itself as a farming community through and through.
“But if you want to come,” says Sujana, “we offer you our stories and our products.”
Banner image: A farmer displays a variant of salak in Sibetan Village, Bali. Image from a virtual tour video.
Duffy, C., Toth, GG, Hagan, RP, McKeown, PC, Rahman, SA, Widyaningsih, Y., … Spillane, C. (2021). Agroforestry contributions to smallholder food security in Indonesia. Agroforestry Systems, 95(6), 1109-1124. doi:10.1007/s10457-021-00632-8
Krishna, A. (2019). Agrotourism community service in a Sibetan village. International Journal of Community Service Learning, 3(1), 18-21. doi:10.23887/ijcsl.v3i1.15638
One version of this story was reported by the Mongabay Indonesia team and was first published here in our indonesian site on May 2, 2022.