Farmers are formidable. World leaders could learn from their virtues.

Who knows whether it’s the effect of their Balinese Hindu practices, their centuries-old engineering acumen, or thanks to the climate conditions, but today, Indonesia is the highest rice yielding country in the world. 

Black, red or white, rice is more than just a staple food to the Balinese. This esteemed cereal grain is deeply embedded in Indonesian culture, and the process of planting, harvesting and eating rice is a cultural phenomenon that transcends culinary and nourishment needs.

BALI, Indonesia, May 2017 | The rituals, superstitions and traditions around rice are rich and wholesome—rather like the flavours of Nasi Goreng on every warung menu (literally meaning ‘fried rice’ this Indonesian classic is a favourite dish at every casual roadside café). Intricate ceremonies held by farmers here see offerings presented to Dewi Sri, the Goddess of Rice. You can always spy tiny elaborate shrines standing proudly in most rice paddies. A tiny hand-made temple on stilts where fresh flowers, exotic fruit and sometimes sweets and a palm-leaf Cili effigy, have been presented as a request for their land to be blessed for a bountiful harvest. 

Subak is the ingenious irrigation system established in the 11th century which endures today with its sophisticated, balanced protocol that connects all the paddies through a water-temple system. These are scientists—but they don't use any specialist hi-tech equipment. Beautifully sculpted parrot-green terraced paddy fields are the resulting landscape creating postcard-perfect views across the whole island.

Mountain lakes feed Bali’s rivers and streams throughout the year, and the intense tropical sunlight and rich volcanic soil cultivates ideal conditions for rice production. The Balinese have mastered the art of harvesting as much rice as is humanly possible from a limited amount of space, freeing them up to hone other skills such as wood carving, sculpting, painting and playing music. It’s an eminent legacy, signifying the spectacular aspects of Balinese culture and a symbol of life. It’s symbolic of their legal system as they create their own mini laws to manage territorial disputes and also works as a spiritual unit to organise society and create communal bonds.

Away from the tourist trail, Tegalalang Rice Terrace, just north of Ubud is well worth an excursion. Surrounded by lush green jungle and overlooking those fertile fields, Boni Bali is a small restaurant where the simple, authentic food is fantastically flavoursome. The Nasi Bakar—rice grilled in banana leaf— is a traditional low-key local dish and yet it was as remarkable as the view. A post-prandial stroll through the tiny gaps in the paddy fields let us soak up the spirit of this soul-stirring life-nurturing destination.

Step away from the city and there’s a gentle pace to life. Steady, small and simple movements—that’s how the farmers move as they bend down and expertly plant seedling upon seedling into their nutrient-rich soil. I don’t imagine I’d have the stamina or focus to do what these industrious people do on a daily basis. Baking in the sun, mites and mosquitos gnawing at your skin, knee-deep, raking through mud and water—could you do it for a day? 

That afternoon near Ubud, we met an elderly man in his conical rice hat, maybe in his late seventies or early eighties, who was clever enough to pocket a few Rupiahs for joining a few sun-burnt tourists in their photographs. My wife, Lucy, asked him if he was tired. ‘I am happy,’ he replied, a smile spreading on his characterful face. I’d been quizzical. Now as I observed each wrinkle on his sun-baked face and wondered about what tales of triumph or tragedy they might tell, my expression, I suspect revealed awe and respect. 

Farmers have many lessons to teach us. Leaders of every nation could learn from them. Spending time with them is a lesson in embracing nature, the frailty of life, the rewards of effort, the humility to accept what one cannot control, the need to collaborate, be inclusive, compassionate, persevere, preserve and most importantly, be persistent. 

Farmers are formidable people. Next time you tuck into your favourite rice dish, think of every seed that has been sown and every grain harvested, reveals a human story.

Ancient wisdom and traits we can learn from Balinese farmers

  • Patience To know to embrace nature’s pace. You can’t rush the harvest; to grow things that are nourishing, one needs to be patient.
     
  • Tolerance To be tolerant towards others, understanding their needs and finding a way to work in harmony for the collective good.
     
  • Persistence To get up and start again, day after day, through drought or flood. It’s stamina that drives the results they seek and their optimism and faith is complemented by their ability to persevere. 

Gaurav Sinha has been in the travel industry for two decades, both as a hotelier and as a marketer. He’s travelled across the world, creating new hotel brands, telling stories that make people fall in love with places and trying to create enriching brand experiences.

Having discovered that so many places said the same thing and expected to be different, the word luxury was mutated beyond comprehension and that TripAdvisor is diluting authority with its carnival of opinions he created his blog, Enriching Experiences, so he could give honest feedback on things that matter.

Dedicated to the world of travel, hospitality, cuisine, art and culture, the musings of  founder of Insignia Worldwide provide insights and information to people who believe that a life well lived, is a world well-travelled.