Subak - irrigation

Farmers who irrigate their fields in Bali have to solve a complex coordination problem that emerges because of the nature of pest outbreaks and water shortages. They have solved this problem through system of religious rituals and actions organized by specific groups of farmers on specific dates -- called subak. There is no centralized authority dictating or coordinating outcomes, yet the system works exceedingly well.

"The temple networks [in Bali] are fragile, vulnerable to the cross-currents produced by competition among male descent groups. But the feminine rites of water temples mirror the farmers' awareness that when they act in unison, small miracles of order occur regularly, as the jewel-like perfection of the rice terraces produces general prosperity. Much of this is barely visible from within the horizons of Western social theory."

Subak irrigation system in Bali. source

# Aspirational Goals

To coordinate individual farmers' farming practices to improve rice yields using social and religious practices embedded in tradition.


# Legal Status & Location

Subak is a social commons among farmers in Bali Australia/Oceania bioregional; it is not a formal organization and thus has no formal legal status.

# When did it start?

Subak practices to help manage rice planting and irrigation have been around for generations in Bali, but they were marginalized in the 1960s when the Green Revolution introduced "miracle" rice varieties, pesticides and fertilizers. In the face of "modern" ways of growing rice, farmers clung to their traditional religious rituals at water temples as part of their cultivation practices.

# How do they work?

Anthropologist J. Stephen Lansing html figured out that the rituals were not simply religious conservatism, but a social/cultural way of coordinating farmers to plant rice at different times in the season (to avoid water shortages) but to harvest rice at the same time (to minimize pests proliferating). As Lansing explains in his book Perfect Order html , subak irrigation re-emerged in the 1980s as the failures of western industrial agriculture became apparent. It works by using social and religious practices to sync with the best ecological timing for planting and harvesting.

# How are they financed?

As a system driven by social practice and tradition, subak has no direct financial or monetary costs.


# Which Core Dimensions of Commoning are enacted?

The Balinese farmers who practice subak irrigation are engaged in number of Dimensions of Commoning as their social and religious practices blend with their farming and irrigation traditions. Balinese rice farmers face two difficult challenges in coordinating the behaviors of dozens of farmers -- planting at different times and harvesting at the same time. Their faithfulness to traditional religious rituals has been effective in meeting this challenge. Cultivate Shared Purpose & Values

The ritual practices and the cultural norms of Balinese farmers has certainly worked to Ensure Fair Abundance and Strengthen the Nested-I. People realize that individual success depends upon everyone's success -- a prime example of Ubuntu-Rationality. The subak practices obviously honor care in agricultural practices and social relations.

The Balinese farmers also have shown that to Deepen Interdependency on Nature is a way to develop a more stable, efficient form of agriculture. Anthroplogist Lansing describes how dysfunctional the technological interventions of the Green Revolution simply introduced costly complications that no institution or experts could master:

"Farmers easily fell into a routine of purchasing 'technology packets' and selling their crops for cash, which could be used to purchase consumer goods such as motorcyles. But it turned out that there were hidden environmental costs. Rice pests soon acquired resistance to pesticides. The agricultural service responded by prescribing more pesticides. Within a few years resistant pests such as the brown leafhopper were devastating rice crops, in some areas consuming the entire harvest. While the extension service turned to aerial pesticide-spraying campaigns, the farmers found a more effective solution by returning to the old system of coordinated region-wide fallow periods, organized by water temples. Pesticide usage declined, but meanwhile it was becoming apparent that the technology packets were triggering another major environmental crisis. The fertilizer contained in these packets included phosphate and potassium, minerals that are naturally abundant in the volcanic soil of Bali. Monsoon rains falling on the island leach these nutrients from the soil, and irrigation canals continuously transport them to the rice paddies. The result is a very efficient hydroponic system of fertilization, which in the past enabled the farmers to grow crops in the same fields for centuries without harming the land. But this natural system of fertilization was ignored by the designers of the "technology packets."

By making joint commitments to a set of shared practices, Balinese farmers in effect Decouple Giving & Taking. The reversion to subak practices in the face of disruptive Green Revolution agriculture has shown that farmers Trust Situated Knowing.

In terms of group governance, more needs to be added about processes for resolving disputes -- Preserve Relationships in Addressing Conflicts -- and how farmers Reflect on Your Peer-Governance.

# Peer-Governance in the Commons

Balinese farmers have clearly developed shared purpose & values in governing their rice commons. A big part of this comes from separating their commons from commercial imperatives, particularly those marketed by western agriculture. Subak practices have relationalized property by showing that each farmers' success is connected to coordinate with other farmers, and then enacting this agreement through religious rituals at water temples.

What the West may see as the "merely religious," in this context amounts to a form of social governance. The value is not generated and secured through markets or the state, but through the peer coordination of the farmers themselves. J. Stephen Lansing, a scholar of complexity theory, regards the subak system as a decentralized, agent-driven system that produces effective governance. It successfully protects and extends value sovereignty. Protect & extend value sovereignty


# How does Provisioning through commons occur?


ontological ground and political culture

# Inner Kernel

Proceed the same way selecting from the following dimensions


# Realms of Commoning


# Sources

J. Stephen Lansing, Perfect Order: Recognizing Complexity in Bali (2006). html "Subak (irrigation)," Wikipedia entry. html

# See also

add closely related pages