Wirtten by Aaron Killgore MSc., 25th January 2013
Perched on the back of the off-road motorcycle, Ketut Suastika and I paused briefly to assess the condition of the road to Bunga Village. “Not good”, shouted Ketut, East Bali Poverty Project’s Sustainable Bamboo Development Programme Team Leader, and my guide for the two day trip collecting Geographic Positioning System data for the area. In just a few shorts weeks, the rainy season had already heavily impacted the steep and muddy road, which was deeply rutted with large stones jutting out and fallen branches in the path. I was assured by his 14 years experience on these roads and excited to see the condition of the watershed of Desa Ban at its highest elevations, but I silently wished I knew how to give an offering to the Hindu God of crazy motorcycle rides.
It was a mercifully short and adrenalin-spiked climb, and we safely arrived on the slopes of Mount Abang. Taking in the view from Bunga, at nearly 1000 metros, was spectacular – clouds swirled around the opposite Mount Agung, and we had a perfect view of the Vetiver grass-terraced agricultural fields of corn and cassava, bamboo and tree plantings, cashew groves, and eroded slopes. Both human need for food and wood, and the eruption of Agung in 1963 had taken its toll on the dry deciduous forests that formerly occupied this landscape. I tried to imagine what it looked like centuries ago, when the now extinct Bali tiger (Panthera tigris balica) moved through these high ridges and valleys, quietly looking for its next meal.
Ahora, the strategy of EBPP has been to address the poverty of the adjacent villages that drive poor natural resource management decisions, educate the people to help make sustainable agroforestry possible, and establish bamboo forests that will give economic benefit to the area. The choice to utilize bamboo for the reforestation efforts was a logical one – it grows extremely fast and has a low mortality rate, if it is planted and managed correctly. It’s also useful in hundreds of ways, from construction to clothing, erosion control and water conservation and critical to most Bali Hindu ceremonies from birth to death! EBPP’s Bamboo Reforestation Program has been very successful – a Centre for treating the bamboo for construction has been built, there is a nearby experimental garden to grow new bamboo species, dozens of villagers are trained on how to plant bamboo and almost 100ha have been planted since 2006.
By creating detailed maps of the watershed, we are attempting to fully document their successes and prioritize new planting areas. With recent advances in aerial photography, digital data layers, GPS units and mapping programs, we can accurately locate and display each agroforestry project within 2-3 metros, and link all of the work EBPP has done with health, education and infrastructure into a spatial database. For the first time, we will be able to display over 15 years of information collected on the incredible gains in nutrition, child education, vacunas, Cuidado Dental, saneamiento, and literacy rates in these villages, with huge credit given to the expertise and energy of EBPP staff. But first, Ketut and I will have to make it back down the mountain on those roads. I strap my helmet on, take a deep breath, and feel grateful that I skipped breakfast.