Coming to Bali for the first time is like entering an entirely new world. This island, is a wild mix of old and new, containing parallel worlds living together. It goes beyond barriers and shows stark contrasts consistently, as one walks along broken footpaths into shiny stores.

Though here, even in technological 2015, the Hindu Balinese roots reach far and wide, spreading to the temples placed at every intersection, every home, every village and community.

The Traditional Culture of The Sawahs. Photo: Charlie Tide

The Traditional Culture of The Sawahs. Photo: Charlie Tide

The rice fields in Bali, cultivated for thousands of years, are known as ‘Sawah’ and have huge importance for the local people. Each village, maintains their Sawah, with a complex irrigation system known as the ‘Subak’. Though, the Subak is not just an irrigation system, it is their very means of sustaining their culture and ecology, and it therefore holds a very high role in Balinese society. 

Rice fields in Tempaksiring, Bali. Photo: Charlie Tide

Rice fields in Tempaksiring, Bali. Photo: Charlie Tide



Each Subak is governed by the local community, whom appoints a Subak ‘leader’, one who will make decisions and seek to protect and sustain the health and wellbeing of the water. A Subak covers a specified ecological region, and feeds into many pieces of land through a mazing system of hand-dug irrigation channels. This Subak is essentially what we know as a watershed, used with absolute precision to bring water to agricultural crops, maintained by the people in order to bring rice, fish and vegetables.

The biggest threat we see now to these Subak, is industrialization of a very ancient culture. These two worlds clash, and bounce back, and clash again, in all levels of the culture and society, inevitably affecting the distinct ecology.

What is industrialization? Simply, it is the development of industries on a wide scales. Here, in Bali it’s distinct because the industrialization is largely due to increasing tourism on a increasingly small island. Increasing tourist-driven development, sees Villas placed in the middle of the rice fields, quickly sucking up the water, and polluting the outflow. 


Fast-paced development encroaches on Bali’s traditional rice fields. Canggu, Bali. Photo; Charlie Tide

The farmers that still sow their rice around these villas, have largely turned to the highly subsidized NPK fertilizer and quick growing wet rice for abundant yields. Sold as minimum input, it creates a false economy, for the soil has degraded and fish are no longer abundant as they were. This Is severely affecting how the community now views their land, and inevitably when land is degraded, it becomes forgotten and here, it becomes sold.

Traditional rice farming, that is still quietly being remembered, embraces abundant polycultural systems that function as an integrated closed loop. The sowing of the rice is synchronized throughout the region, with their distinct Balinese calendar (that stills says its 1937?! Amazing), and the fields are flooded. Ducks are also used; coming to the fields in the morning, eating up the abundance of insects and critters, and at the time, providing nutrients to the neatly sewn rice.

When the water is clear, many things thrive and one can see fish, water hyacinth, kang kong and watercress abundantly growing along the terrace banks. Quickly, one can see how abundant a small piece of land becomes for a family and village.

I spent my time here visiting the Sawah, their farmers and those working in the rice roots / grassroots of Bali. They reach far and wide, rhythmically going about as they grow food and seed new ideas with each other.

What I’ve come to see here in Bali, is that there is a strong movement for community empowerment and agricultural land conservation. It is a movement to protect the ancient agricultural culture that has nurtured these ecosystems for eons, a movement that encompasses both old and new, that shares working models and builds upon them, and that strives to network and continue action through empowered education and skill sharing.

  • Sowing the seeds of resilience
  • Remembering local tradition
  • Embracing sustainable development through appropriate technologies and viable education.



Growing diverse ecologies creates strong, resilient systems that not only sustain, but regenerate the landscape. Sawah Bali experiments with polycultural plantings. Photo; Charlie Tide.

Sawah Bali is an organization working on ground that is striving to protect the rice fields of Bali. Their pilot project, just outside of Ubud, is quickly becoming a demonstration centre for local working models. Surrounded by other sawah, their land is has been designed and implemented to show a diverse amount of land use possibilities, comprising rice terraces, spiral beds, a cow shed, azolla & fish pond, and a nursery.

It is intended that this land becomes a centre for exhibiting what works, and how to transition from the chemical-based monoculture systems that have been in place for near some generations now, to a regenerating organic system.

Sawah Bali is one project here acting for a more equal and regenerative world, and inspiring others. Volunteer placements are welcomed. Sawah Bali can be contacted via their website at


Volunteers (US) at Sawah Bali’s pilot project, preparing to water some very happy tomatoes. Photo; Charlie Tide

Looking for more Impact Centers in Bali? Check these out…

Farmers Yard, Canggu


The Farmers Yard is an incredibly sweet space in the middle of bustling Canggu, about 15 minutes north of Kuta. Fondly referred to as Permaculture Hostel, it advocates the transition of tourist to traveller, a way of interacting deeply with the world around them emphasized through the practice of permaculture and harmonious cultural exchange.

Djuka, the founder and collaborative idea generation of The Yard, also co runs Permablitz Bali, a grassroots collective that organizes collaborative gardening ‘blitzes’ all around the island. He encourages his guests to find their way to contribute, whether its seed saving, pond building, garden tending or visiting some of the local projects he’s directly involved in.

Tirtta Ganga Organic Farm


Tirtta Ganga Organic Farm, East Bali. Photo: Charlie Tide

Situated directly beside the sacred water palace known as Tirtta Ganga, Tirtta Ganga Organic Farm is a special place to practice Permaculture and Organic Farming Techniques. A world away from the clog and smog of Southern Bali, the farm is co-managed by Brandon Bodhi Denton, a fellow contributor to Transformational Times, the farm grows organic produce for local consumption in Karangasem. The first farm on the Subak, its water flows through a series of layered irrigation channels, feeding beds of chilli, tomato and eggplant, lined with an ever increasing abundance of mint.

The palace, built for the King of Karangasem, Bali in 1948, is a space for honouring the sacred water that flows abundantly from the surrounding springs. It lies very close to Mt. Agung, a place of huge significance to the Hindu Balinese people, believed to be the central axis of the world, and inevitably, where their god were first born into creation.To contact Tirta Gangga Organic Farm:

The farm is seeing a transition into productive polycultural market gardening, as Bodhi experiments with new systems and working models. One of such is the Chinampas.

The farm is seeing a transition into productive polycultural market gardening, as Bodhi experiments with new systems and working models. One of such is the Chinampas.



Seeing how the problems in Bali have spurred passionate folk to create solutions, on the ground, and with the local people, has inspired many to be a part. On the road, we’ve met many a kind soul doing their part to contribute, share skills and resources, learn new techniques, and enjoy life, through the active way of doing, and co-creating solutions.

What I’ve come to know through my travels, is that there ARE clear solutions to how we, as unique individuals, can make a beneficial impact. I call it ‘Regenerative Nomadism’, and it is a simple and kind way of being in diverse, different cultures. For now, here are some solutions for interacting harmoniously, and making a change in distant places!