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From The Asian Reporter, V20, #14 (April 19, 2010), page 12.

A true fable

Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life:

A Story of Sustainable Farming

By Jan Reynolds

Lee & Low Books, 2009

Hardcover, 48 pages, $19.95

By Josephine Bridges
The Asian Reporter

A food staple for half the planetís population, rice is one of the most important crops on earth."

So begins Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life, which focuses on "the small Indonesian island of Bali" where "rice is life." While it could be a story of paradise lost, it could also have a happy ending.

Bali is surrounded by water, but the salty water from the Bali Sea and the Indian Ocean cannot be used for farming. Instead, "farmers must rely on rain that first falls on the islandís highest peaks ó volcanoes as tall as 10,000 feet ... from the highest points on the island to the lowest, an ancient, elaborate water system flows down the hillsides, through the plains, and out to the ocean. Although Baliís lakes and rivers exist naturally, a human-made marvel of hydro engineering has harnessed these waters for more than a thousand years."

Author Jan Reynolds does a laudable job of familiarizing the reader with this amazing irrigation system through words and photographs. "Built along this intricate water system like beads on a necklace is a linked network of temples where water ceremonies take place." Rituals performed at these temples have not only a religious significance, but also a social and administrative function: They "connect people living in one watershed" and "ensure proper supervision and maintenance of the entire water system."

The author introduces the reader to a boy named Putu and his family, who prepare rice fields, plant shoots, make scarecrows out of strings and rags tied to bamboo sticks, harvest the mature rice with traditional curved knives, dry it in the sun, and pack it into bags. Following the harvest, the rice stalks are left to rot and replenish the land, and the familyís ducks visit the fallow fields to eat pests and fertilize the soil with their manure. "This type of rice farming is a form of sustainable agriculture, which means the crop can be grown over and over on the same land, year after year. Since this type of farming does not use chemicals that could be harmful to the land, air, and water, the system is also environmentally sustainable. It causes no lasting damage to the earth."

Does this sound too good to be true? Read on. In the 1960s, "because Bali was the best rice producer out of the thousands of islands that make up Indonesia, the government decided that it would make Bali an even better rice producer," but thatís not what happened. "The big surprise was that the best rice producer in Indonesia soon became the worst."

Fortunately, J. Stephen Lansing, an anthropologist from the University of Southern California, was in Bali studying the system of water temples at the time of this ironically named "Green Revolution." With the help of his friend, professor and ecologist James Kremer, he developed a computer model that in many ways "did what the priests and farmers had been doing for more than a thousand years."

What boggles the mind is that "government officials began to understand the valuable and complicated job priests and farmers had managed. They realized the temple system had coordinated water sharing and crop rotation better than the government had."

If you want to know what happens next, youíll just have to read Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life. Then you might want to try some sustainable agriculture in your own backyard. Next youíll probably want to visit Bali. Jan Reynolds ó who drives a peanut-oil-fuelled car ó has written and photographed a true fable that could change the world. Share it with your grownups.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books