If you’ve ever wondered why Bedugul’s famous strawberries taste so good, you can thank rabbits. Growers at Candi Kuning, near Bedugul, have turned to rabbit urine to fertilise their strawberry plants and vegetable crops.
One of the growers, Nyoman Suta, has been using rabbit urine as liquid fertiliser on his 2,000-square-metre (20-are) strawberry field for nearly a year and says his crops have grown healthily and taste very sweet.
“Insect pests had been attacking crops in the area but my strawberries and vegetables are resistant because of bio-urine,” he said.
But only a few of the area’s 6,000 farmers are using bio-urine as fertiliser so far, even though it is a traditional practice around the world, dating back to ancient times.
Indian farmers use cow urine to grow fruit and vegetables. In Finland, farmers use human urine to fertilise tomato and other fruit plants. The US space agency NASA developed hydroponic farming using urine-based fertiliser.
Experts say urine is a good source of nitrogen and other minerals needed to fertilise soil, providing it is used correctly. However, the rapid change of farming technology, government policies and demands for higher yields have forced farmers to use chemical-based fertilisers.
Indonesian farmers have been using chemical fertilisers for more than 30 years, when “green revolution” policies were introduced by the Suharto regime. But a growing number of the country’s farmers, including many in Bali, have begun to blame huge environmental losses on the use of toxic fertiliser pollutants.
A Udayana University School of Agriculture research project recently disclosed an alarming report on the condition of the island’s soil.
The report revealed that the excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides had badly damaged soil conditions at most of Bali’s agricultural sites. Soil, rivers and other water sources have been seriously polluted by chemical waste. “In many parts of the island, we no longer see worms and small animals that naturally fertilise the soil,” the report said.
Hidayah Bali Rural Agricultural Training Centre coordinator Putu Wijana said his organisation had gradually introduced bio-urine to local farmers over the last few years, while the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides “seems uncontrollable.”
It introduced rabbit urine in Candi Kuning because it is renowned as one of the most prolific rabbit-breeding sites in Bali. “Farmers are able to apply an integrated farming system by raising rabbits and growing fruit and vegetable plants,” Wijana said.
Farmers may get up to 100 kilograms of strawberries a day from one hectare of land and can sell rabbits too.
Bio-urine is also cheap and easy to process and fits Bali’s plan to develop Indonesia’s first “clean and green” province.
The provincial administration has already provided Rp200 million (US$22,300) to every farmers group that develops organic farming. But Wijana said many farmers were “too lazy” to process nature-based fertilisers.
News of Bedugul’s sweet rabbit-enhanced strawberries comes as the provincial government announced funding of Rp10.3 billion ($1.1 million) to help local farmers adopt organic farming methods by 2013.
Ten farmers’ collectives applied for the programme when the administration first rolled it out in 2009, and received Rp200 million each to change their operations to comply with organic farming standards.
They also used the money to buy 20 head of cattle each.
This year, 50 collectives have applied for the program, according to Made Putra Suryawan, head of the Bali Agricultural Office.
Under the programme, the administration guides the farmers on how to integrate their crop and livestock farming operations through developing biogas collectors, compost-processing units and reforestation efforts.
“The farmers who participated in 2009 now produce their own compost and biogas for their own household needs,” Putra said on Wednesday.
He said that next year his office expected to enlist 100 farmers’ collectives from across the island. “By 2013, we hope to have helped 350 collectives successfully practise organic farming, so that Bali will be known as an organic island,” he said.
The Bali government hopes to ensure that 70 percent of the island’s produce is grown organically by 2013. One step towards achieving this is phasing out the current subsidy on chemical fertilisers and promoting the use of organic varieties.
This year, half of the provincial fertiliser subsidy of Rp4 billion ($447,000) has been allocated to organic fertilisers, Putra said. “Next year, we’ll provide a Rp3-billion ($335,000) subsidy for organic fertilisers and Rp1 billion ($111,000) for chemical fertilisers and in 2012 chemical fertilisers will no longer be subsidized by the provincial administration.”
He said farm incomes could be boosted by switching to organic produce which fetched higher prices.
But the government’s plan has been criticised as too ambitious. Kauci Gunanjar, director of the Manikaya Foundation, said an island-wide switch to organic farming would require a lengthy and sustained education campaign that could last more than five years, given the farmers’ decades-long dependence on chemical fertilisers.