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The Impact of the Green Revolution and Capitalized Farming on the

The Impact of the Green Revolution and Capitalized Farming on the

Balinese Water Temple System

Jonathan Sepe

copyright � 2000

In the 1970s, the Green Revolution answered the call of world hunger. The
program was undertaken to commoditize production of several cash crops in order to
make countries more self-sufficient and increase the world food supply. Despite its
good intentions, it became one of the most unsuccessful development projects in
history whose effects are still widespread. In the case of the island of Bali, three main
factors contributed to the development and failure of the project. Developers,
operating from an economist�s perspective, failed to recognize the culture, history,
and natural agriculture of Balinese society. First, the Balinese cultural devotion to
religious ritual is closely tied to their agricultural system. Second, the history of Dutch
colonization established a framework for bureaucratic farming methods, which was
later utilized by the Green Revolution. Finally, the implementation of capitalized
farming opposed the natural agriculture due to its disregard for the natural system of
water temples. One must first examine the social organization of Balinese society.
��������� Bali is a province in the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia and is
one of over thirteen thousand islands located in the Indonesian archipelago.
Historically, Indonesia was engulfed in the momentum of the booming commodity
market. The islands became early victims of colonization beginning with the spice
trade of the sixteenth century. In their search for nutmeg, cloves, pepper and other
fine goods, the Portuguese first conquered Indonesia in the 1500s and then the
British and Dutch struggled for power until the Dutch obtained full control by the
1700s (Encyclopedia Britannica CD-ROM). Indonesia declared its independence from
the Netherlands in 1945. However, the nation still experiences the aftermath of
colonialism as the economy presently relies on the production of export cash crops
such as rice, timber, rubber, tea, coconuts, coffee, and spices (Encyclopedia
Britannica CD-ROM). Bali primarily remained untouched by colonialism until the
Dutch invasion of the mid-nineteenth century.
In the sixteenth century, Bali became a haven for many Hindu refugees when
Java succumbed to Islam. In the Balinese sect of Hinduism, temples play a primary
role in social integration. Lansing notes that rather than prompting the formation of
cities or urban centers, Balinese institutional structures managed everything from the
control of irrigation to the rituals of the Hindu religion and caste system throughout a
network of temples (The Three Worlds 7). The complex village temple system includes
caste system temples, kinship temples, agriculture temples, and water temples that
organize all aspects of daily life. Lansing writes:
�Every temple represents a social unit; it is a permanent institution, and only
those directly involved in the life of that institution need to pay attention to it. A
second consequence is that people must belong to more than one
temple...Temples, then, are more than places of worship and more than
symbols of social units. In an important sense, they are the institutional
framework of Balinese society� (The Three Worlds 55).

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Therefore, temples are responsible for the cohesion of Balinese society as religious
followers form strong bonds and transform into a congregation.
The agricultural system, like other aspects of society, relies on the temple
network for guidance. This decentralized system is regulated by priests rather than
central government authority yet the process requires intricate systems of social
control. Lansing indicates that this framework begins with the direction of the water
temple as the water flows along the river through the weir, or dam, and ends up in
the subak down the irrigation canals (Priests 48). The subak, an irrigation society,
demonstrates this local-level control. Clifford Geertz writes:
�A subak is defined as all the major rice terraces irrigated from a single
dam...The dams are arranged one below the other down the river canyons, a
single canal, usually of some length, carrying the diverted water to the subak,
often with the aid of overhead aqueducts or long tunnels� (230).

Individuals in a subak form a congregation that becomes affiliated with the activities
of particular temples. Geertz notes that within the subak, congregation members
prepare offerings to the gods, repair and decorate temples, clear small field canals,
and make repairs to water channels (232, 241). The communal efforts of the subak
members, strongly linked with religious ritual, contribute to the social integration of
Balinese society.
According to Lansing, the Temple of the Crater Lake stands at the summit of
the water temple system, and through its association with the Goddess of the Lake
claims authority over the water in all of the irrigation systems of Bali (Priests 74).
Rituals and ceremonies are conducted by priests and involve the entire community.
Lansing describes a festive ceremony of song and dance in which priests bless holy
water, distribute it among the subak channels, and give thanks to the gods for the
new harvest cycle (The Three Worlds 64). The flow of holy water, originating from the
Temple of the Crater Lake, establishes hierarchical relations between temples and
symbolizes social relationships in the process. Lansing indicates that the downstream
flow of holy water through lower-order temples parallels an individual�s caste
ranking and the entire system of rural class stratification (Priests 71). The connection
between agriculture and religious ritual has not only fostered a tightly knit community
but has also promoted natural farming methods based on religious cycles.
The planting of rice seedlings, flooding of terraces, offerings at the temple altar,
and harvest rituals strictly abide by the subak cycle and the Balinese calendar
(Lansing, Priests 67). As well as providing a cyclical agricultural method, the water
temple system also employs a form of artificial ecology. Lansing alleges that the flow of
water is alternated between wet and dry phases which results in such biochemical
benefits as the circulation of mineral nutrients, the formation of nitrogen and natural
fertilizer, and the preservation of nutrients in the soil (Priests 39). Balinese farmers
utilize natural pest control without harmful pesticides. Lansing indicates that pests
such as the brown planthopper are contained by drying or flooding fields and driving
flocks of ducks through rice paddies to eat insects (Priests 39). Therefore, the
ritual-based temple system is responsible for the organization of daily activities,
farming schedules, and religious ceremonies. Water flow encompasses a dual nature
as the flow of irrigation creates the hydro-logic dependency of farming while the flow
of holy water creates the social hierarchy of ritual and culture. The Dutch colonizers
and the Green Revolution planners never understood this important duality of
agriculture and religious culture.
Historically, the Dutch imposed a bureaucratic capitalist system in Bali, a
structure that set the stage for future disaster in the Green Revolution. Driven by the
commodity market, the Dutch formed the Dutch East India Company in 1602 and
colonized most of Indonesia by the early 1800s. Between 1870 and 1910, the Dutch

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had converted the islands into a unified colonial dependency expanding roads,
railways, and shipping to serve the needs of the new plantation economy
(Encyclopedia Britannica CD-ROM). Lansing writes:
�The classical states of Bali were not merely conquered but obliterated: the
people killed, the libraries burned, the palaces reduced to rubble. It is all the
more remarkable, then, that the cultural and institutional life of Bali�Balinese
civilization, in fact�was able to survive...The real roots of this civilization lay
elsewhere, in intertwining networks of thousands of temples where the power of
the myths was guarded, nurtured, studied...� (The Three Worlds 49).

While Dutch colonialism radically altered Balinese society by abolishing the monarchy
and destroying visible signs of culture, the temples endured untouched and
maintained their importance in constructing Balinese culture. Lansing notes that
Dutch observers did not understand the decentralized system of irrigation and the
importance of water temples in agricultural production as they abandoned any
attempts to intervene in water management solely allowing the ancient system to
transpire (Priests 109). The Dutch installed an irrigation bureaucracy, which consisted
of collecting taxes, performing land surveys, and building irrigation works, yet they
remained clueless as to the vital role of water temples in both agriculture and social
The wave of imperialism in the nineteenth century urbanized the land and
commercialized production of several cash crops including rice, tea, and opium.
Because rice was a large source of government income in Bali, it prompted the Dutch
to improve the managerial system with a firm bureaucracy and taxation on rice lands.
Lansing states:
�Because the Dutch model of irrigation vastly underestimated the complexity of
the sociobiophysical systems involved in rice production, water temples and
bureaucracies coexisted without creating technical problems in irrigation
control. Most Balinese rice terraces continued to produce two crops per year, as
they had before the arrival of the Dutch� (Priests 127).

This institutional framework allowed the Dutch to transform rice into cash crop and
begin exportation. When Bali gained their independence in 1950, they continued on a
path towards development based on the bureaucratic capitalism imposed by their
colonizers. They were trapped in the colonial system and did not return to the
decentralized ways of the pre-colonial era. Consequently, the irrigation bureaucracy,
which altered traditional Balinese society, provided an accommodating framework for
the Green Revolution to operate.
As the Dutch had done many years earlier, the Green Revolution was an
attempt to convert rice from a subsistent crop into a cash crop. However, the
engineers of the colonial age had little technology to offer whereas the Green
Revolution offered new agricultural technology such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides,
and new breeds of �miracle rice� in a $54 million dollar scheme of modernization
(�Balinese Water Temples� 1). This large-scale development project began at the
International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and was implemented in
Indonesia in 1967; the program, known as Massive Guidance, furnished new
agronomic practices to farmers (Lansing, Priests 112). In Bali, the Bali Irrigation
Project was launched in 1979 by the Asian Development Bank in order to improve the
performance of irrigation systems while disregarding the practical role of water
temples (Lansing, Priests 113). All of the new changes contradicted the natural
agricultural system based on ritual and religious cycles. Lansing writes:
�The Green Revolution approach assumed that agriculture was a purely
technical process and that production would be optimized if everyone planted

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high-yielding varieties of rice as often as they could. In contrast, Balinese

temple priests and farmers argued that the water temples were necessary to
coordinate cropping patterns so that there would be enough irrigation water for
everyone and to reduce pests by coordinating fallow periods� (Priests 117).

The bureaucratic procedures that changed irrigation patterns and cropping cycles
eroded the religious culture and agricultural-religious ritual of Bali and led to the
demise of the project.
While the first few years brought greater harvest, Massive Guidance quickly led
farmers into ecological collapse. The lack of crop rotation and natural planting cycles
resulted in less productive fields and the use of chemicals and pesticides backfired as
the infestation of the brown planthopper destroyed hundreds of acres of rice crop
(Encyclopedia Britannica CD-ROM). The absence of natural pest control and the
application of the new pesticides killed the good insects that used to eat the brown
planthopper. Besides the agricultural downfall, there were sociocultural consequences
of the exclusion of the water temple system as discovered by Lansing in his analysis of
the development project. He declares:
�...The model supports the conclusion that the social organization of cropping
patterns plays an important role in the management of terrace ecology. The real
productive significance of the ritual system is not in the imposition of fixed
cropping patterns but in the ability to synchronize the productive activities of
large numbers of farmers. The water temples are a social system that manages
production, not a ritual clockwork� (Priests 123).

Water temples are necessary not only to prescribe proper irrigation and natural pest
control but also to organize social activities such as ceremonies and holidays among
the farmer congregation. The Green Revolution in Bali and other Southeast Asian
countries was a failure because developers failed to recognize cultural practices and
natural agricultural systems.
��������� In the 1980s and 1990s, governments began to implement new
procedures and return to the decentralized systems of the past in order to counteract
the problems generated from the Green Revolution. The Indonesian government has
employed a project known as Integrated Pest Management to reduce pesticides and
create sustainable agriculture and land use. Ralston, Anderson, and Colson indicate
that involvement in development projects trains rural people new skills, familiarizes
them with government channels, and gives them the opportunity to become better
citizens of their countries (115). Integrated Pest Management follows this ideology as
scientists and officials train farmers natural pest control methods and instruct them
in the monitoring of pest and water levels thus combining both ritual and science.
��������� Lansing�s analysis of the effects of the Green Revolution on
Balinese agriculture persuaded the government to acknowledge the importance of the
water temple system. He notes that in response to the threat of severe toxic
contamination from pesticides and gradual loss of soil fertility, the government of Bali
now strongly supports the use of traditional techniques of coordinated fallow periods
as the primary methods of pest control (Priests, 41). The return to natural methods
has restored the agricultural-religious bond and the ritual of temples in Balinese
society. Lansing contends:
�The water temples must, therefore, be understood, not only as a system of
irrigation management but in terms of their role in the process of
sociogenesis...The ritual system is not merely a gloss on productive
relationships, for in the long run it is the social relationships constructed by
water temples, not the mechanics of water flow, that create and sustain the
terrace ecosystem (Priests 129-130).

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In the water temple system, religious bonds are reaffirmed between farmers while the
caste hierarchy is observed between temple, weir, and subak. This solidarity has
fostered an organized congregation of farmers united by religious ritual who partake
in efficient agronomic methods. Therefore, the failure of the Green Revolution has
proved that decentralization is more successful than bureaucratic farming methods.
��������� The bureaucratic system first imposed by the Dutch, and later
utilized by the Green Revolution, oversimplified irrigation into a function of the
rational state. Lansing maintains:
�The state�s claims to control irrigation�or at any rate, to manage terrace
ecology�were hollow. In reality, subaks were not autonomous units; terrace
ecology could not be sustained by continuous rice cropping; and water temples
played a major role in hydrological and biological management� (Priests 128).

The bureaucratic irrigation complex failed because it contradicted the native

decentralized system of temple ritual and agriculture in Balinese society. A
decentralized planning strategy is beneficial since it tends to favor indirect,
non-central government control while empowering local people by giving them
command over their project (Ralston, Anderson, and Colson 113). The water temples
create a decentralized system in which priests and farmers control the land under a
religious hierarchy rather than the central government. Scientists and economic policy
makers who designed the Green Revolution did not consider the viewpoint of farmers,
the very individuals who were the project�s main beneficiaries. These farmers were
instructed to adopt a Western style of farming that was incompatible with their
culture, history, and natural agriculture. Therefore, it is essential in any development
project that planners understand local-level control and acknowledge the culture of
the particular nation.
In its unsuccessful attempts to capitalize rice as cash crop, The Green
Revolution ravaged the environment, culture, natural agriculture, and water temple
system of Bali. The primary downfall of the project lied in the fact that developers
failed to distinguish both symbolic and instrumental roles of the water temple system.
In one aspect, the temples are religious institutions that dictate worship to the gods
and schedule liturgies for the congregation. On the other hand, they also coordinate
agricultural cycles and irrigation flow creating a social caste hierarchy. This
decentralized temple system was altered when the Dutch imposed their own
bureaucratic framework. However, guided by the Green Revolution, governments
usurped control of agriculture from the temples intent on capitalizing farming in their
territories. Hence, removing the control of temples not only deteriorated agriculture
but affected the entire society since temples play such a major role in social
organization of ritual and daily life. Development projects, such as the Green
Revolution, that are fueled solely by the commodity market generally do not succeed
since the goal is profit, not the self-sustainability of rural peoples. Nevertheless, while
Bali and many other communities still encounter the aftermath of the Green
Revolution, there has been increasing agronomic success with the return of the
indigenous Balinese water temple system.

Works Cited

Lansing, J. Stephen. (1991). Priests and Programmers. Princeton: Princeton

University Press.

Lansing, J. Stephen. (1983). The Three Worlds of Bali. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Geertz, Clifford. (1967). Tihingan: A Balinese Village. In Koentjaraningrat (Ed.),

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Villages in Indonesia (pp.209-243). New York: Cornell University Press.

Anonymous. (1997). Balinese Water Temples. National Science Foundation. [On-line].

Ralston, L., Anderson, J., & Colson, E. (1969). Voluntary Efforts in Decentralized
Management. Berkley: University of California Press.

Agricultural Management. (1998). Encyclopedia Britannica CD-ROM.

Indonesia and its History. (1998). Encyclopedia Britannica CD-ROM.

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