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Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Integrated Agroforestry System of Abian Salak in Karangasem, Bali


Detailed Information



Detailed Information

Global Importance

Karangasem is the driest region in the Island of Bali. 91.26% of this area consists of dry fields which are less favourable for planting wet rice with an irrigation system. Therefore, traditionally since the 14th Century, the local farmers have cultivated salak fruit (Salacca Zalacca, Family Arecaceae) as their main source of livelihood. The sustainability of this agriculture system is made possible by an integrated agroforestry agricultural heritage system.

The agroforestry system practised is agro-silvo-pastural involving three elements; namely, animals, trees and crops. This system very much supports development of sustainable agriculture in sloping/undulating fields and a lack of rainfall. In addition, as a dry field landscape, salak plantations using agroforestry practices play a role in management of water resources. Farmers both individually and collectively carry out a movement for planting protective tress in valleys.

Food and livelihood security

Salak fruit cultivation in dry farmlands contributes significantly to food sustainability of the people of Karangasem. Though the salak harvest season comes twice in a year, in between harvests, salak farmers can still harvest other food crops planted in a layered agroforestry system along with salak as the principal crop. Amongst the salak trees in the plantations, taller fruit tress such as mangosteen, wani mango, durian, coconut, smaller trees such as cloves and sugar palm can be planted. In addition, bananas, various types of herbaceous plants, ferns and food crops and grass as food for livestock, while yams, peanuts and medicinal plants, ginger, turmeric and temulawak are planted and produce under the surface. This helps farmers to have harvests and income throughout the year, which very much supports food and income sustainability.

Agriculture remains the dominant element supporting Karangasem District. The farming sector gives the largest contribution to the economy of Karangasem, and also to the Regional Gross Domestic Product (RGDP). Such agriculture activities involved 94,431 farmers that is to say 39.02 % of the labour force who worked in this sector.


Farmers practice a system of agroforestry in their fields. The landscape processes diversity of land resources, both in terms of soil fertility and in terms of water resources. The result is an agricultural system with high agricultural diversity producing a high variety of agricultural crops.

The Subak Abian system focusses upon the cultivation of 12 varieties of local Salak Bali fruit of Karangasem, combined with other fruit trees such as mangosteen, wani mango, durian, kweni, melinjo, sukun, dukuh, enau, coconut, kemiri, jackfruit, and many kinds of trees usually planted on sloping land with a slope of more than 15 degrees. such as albisia, mahoni, and dadap. Crops planted in the lowest strata include yams such as talas, ketela, rambat, singkong; peanuts, pineapple, edible ferns, spices and herbs such as lengkuwas, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, kencur, and varieties of temu.

Local and Traditional Knowledge Systems

The ancestors of Balinese people in the hilly areas of Karangasem District have discovered a complex agroforestry system with the main product being salak fruit (Salacca Zalacca), combined with other crops in a stratified system. The five strata of crops in this system are as follows.

-  Strata 1 (0-1 m): beginning from grasses and herbaceous plants. Example: sweet potoatoes (Ipomoea batatas), talas belitung (taro) (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) medicinal plants and spices.

- Strata 2 (1-2 m): Herbaceous plants and bushes Plants with woody stems but without a main trunk. Samples of such plants include vegetable ferns (Athyrium esculentum), and grasses for animals

-  Strata 3 (2-5 m): Herbs, bushes and shrubs with a main trunk, with a maximum height of around 5 meters. Examples include bananas

-  Strata 4 (5 -10 m): Smaller trees, (wooden, with a main trunk). For example, clove trees (Syzygium aromaticum), cacao (Theobroma cacao), etc.

- Strata 5 (>10 m): Tall trees, such as mango (Mangifera indica), wani mango (Mangifera ceasia), mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana), etc.

The agroforestry system is presently not yet touched by mechanization, and still uses traditional farming implements with handles made from local wood, baskets made from bamboo, and packaging using banana leaves. The knowledge includes the techniques of planting, propagating salak generatively by seed and vegetative multiplication but also the management regarding which plants mutually support each other (companion planting, for example, salak and wani mango) and which are not mutually supporting and therefore not beneficial to be planted in close proximity (for example, salak and coffee).

Cultures, value systems and social organisations

The agroforestry system is supported by famers’ organizations called Subak Abian especially for dry fields, which are an agricultural heritage system existing for a long time among communities in Karangasem. These organizations support environment conservation and agrobiodiversity in salak plantations, collaboration among farmers in all activities, and transmission of the agroforestry system from generation to generation.

Salak farmers as the executors of the agroforestry system are supported by local wisdom of the philosophies of Tri Hita Karana (THK) which regulates mutually beneficial work between men and God, men and fellow men, and men and the environment, and Tri Mandala (TM) which divides the environment and the activities which go on within it into upper, middle and lower zones, with agroforestry going on in the lower zone. This local wisdom is deeply implanted in the lifestyle of the Balinese community, including in the agroforestry region of Karangasem. Application of THK and TM involves various rituals and activities related to agriculture. THK and TM also conserve a rich food culture and a special calendar used in carrying out various agricultural activities in Bali, including the agroforestry in Karangasem.

Landscapes and Seascapes Features

Undulating and hilly landscapes especially dry fields are utilized for salak plantations with agroforestry system. Salak plantations are always an attractive, beautiful and impressive landscape. The extraordinary landscape is presented by salak plantations with five strata of crops, beginning from grasses, herbaceous plants, scrub, smaller trees such as bamboos, and tall trees.

According to the traditional philosophy, farmers are expected to live in harmony with nature and within Tri Mandala zonal management in order that they may maintain agricultural production. This agroforestry system supports and maintains the existing topography which is mostly hilly and undulating. Besides, the tall trees and also the salak plants themselves help to avoid erosion.