Bali-Asli is an example of fair and sustainable trade perched high in the mountains of central Bali, in the rural village of Pupuan. 25 years ago, Maya and Richard started Bali-Asli with the goal of providing employment and support to the rural community of Pupuan to stop the migration of people to the city. They achieved their goal successfully as they are now the largest employer of this area with 40 workers. They do not only provide a healthy range of products such as jams and soaps but they also brought skills, strengthen community, helped the marginal and established an environmentally conscious business setting an example for others to follow. With a Permaculture background, Richard, Maya and their 3 children apply its principles in a social and economical context. I visited their home and factory and this is their story.
“We need to expand the concept [of Permaculture]to social responsibility and to create our own financial and employment strategies” Bill Mollison, A Designer’s Manual, p507.
I woke up every morning to the laughter of the women working in the soap factory. Like a joyous alarm clock, they woke me up as they started work at 8am. Bali-Asli’s factory is located in Pupuan. They deliver their products to different resellers as well as in their own store in Denpasar. They also run a bakery in Pupuan in partnership with their neighbour, which is a Permaculture/Productive farm. An inspiring community was built as results of their initiatives, spreading the idea of care for the Earth, care for the people and fair trade to other local people.
Social Permaculture: The ethics:
Care for Nature:
They manufacture organic products, recycle and reuse almost all inputs used in the factory and they established a water treatment system.
In addition to a descent salary they offer lunch and transport money, school fees for children and a retirement fund. They also got the community involved in growing in their gardens the fruits and herbs they needed to manufacture their products.
They share company’s profit with their workers. They also started many initiatives to support the community of Pupuan with their profits such as meals for old people who don’t have family anymore to support them. Finally they set up a cooperative within the company so workers can borrow money at a low interest rate. I’ll talk in more details about these initiatives below.
Social Permaculture: The principles
Observe and interact:
They identified many problems in the village of Pupuan. The first one was the migration of people in cities so they built their factory in the mountain. The second one was that Balinese’s borrow a lot of money every year to private lenders at outrageous rate to finance their numerous traditional ceremonies so they set up the cooperative. A more recent problem they identify was that many old people were left behind as their children rushed into the city. So they started a fund to provide free meals. Permaculture is not only about observing problems but also about opportunities. They encouraged everyone to grow herbs and fruits in their family garden so they could access local products and support the village as well. Now almost of the fruits and herbs they use come from family gardens in Pupuan.
Catch and Store Energy:
Money is a form of energy I guess, and they catch it through the cooperative. Bali-Asli started by putting 2 millions Rp in the cooperative and asked everyone who wanted to participate to add a small amount every months. At first they were sceptical but Maya convinced them to try for at least one year. Now they can see the benefits as the money they put aside grows and they are able to borrow money at a very low rate when they need it. This way the wealth created is stored in the local community. They are also planning to expand the cooperative to people in the village. They also catch skill energy if that’s even a thing! They have nearly 0% turnover and most people have stayed with them for 25 years so they are now part of the family, there is a real sense of community at Bali-Asli.
Obtain a yield:
They produce 80 different products, jams, soaps, dishwashing liquids, laundry detergents, breads, cakes, pies, juices, colloidal silver and aromatised salts. Richard is constantly experimenting to produce new products. Their yield is bountiful as they are able to support themselves and the community around them.
Apply self-regulation and accept feedback:
Feedback flows freely at Bali-Asli because people have been working there for 25 years. The company is able to respond positively and quickly to feedback because they stayed small. A good example is during the 2008 world crisis, Indonesia was hit and the company suffered. As a group they came to an agreement. The workers felt it was unfair that some of them lost their jobs while others were able to stay. So instead of firing people, they decided to diminish the working week to 4 days a week. Instead of people losing their job, the work was shared and the company didn’t accumulate losses. This is also a great example of the ethic of fair share.
Use and value renewable resources and services:
I guess from this perceptive, all processes in the factory are manual, and nothing is done by or with machines. The only none renewable resources would be the fuel used for cooking and the packaging (for now).
Produce no waste:
They have a composting system for the factory waste, which is then used in the gardens where they grow aloe Vera and other soap ingredients. They also have a water treatment system and use the water in the gardens during the dry season.
Design from pattern to details:
This principle is a little harder to identify. I guess they started with the wonderful intention of supporting the rural community of Pupuan. This was the starting point of their project. They then implemented the details one at the time as they identified problems and opportunities.
Integrate rather than segregate:
Group decisions, building community and family values are all component of integration in a company. They also welcomed people from every background without special qualifications or skills. Anyone who wants to work will be trained and cared for. They also integrate the worker’s abilities and knowledge. Maya taught the workers at the bakery how to make bread but if they knew delicious recipes it was added to the menu.
Small and slow solution:
The Building of an alternative banking system outside the corporate banking system is surely an important small solution. Keeping employment and inputs within the local area is another one. Getting most fruits and herbs needed from family gardens within the community is quite an impressive way of applying this principle.
Use and value diversity:
Diversity of products is the main one. They also have many different tastes and scents so they preserve the diversity of fruits and herbs grown in the village for the company.
Use edge and value the marginal:
People in rural area are at the edge of society, often marginalized. Providing work and services to people in rural area is one way to value the marginal. We can also consider manual workers as marginal within a company. Bali-Asli gives its workers the freedom to manage themselves, their schedule and the way they want to work. If a new tool or process doesn’t work for them then it won’t be implemented. This way the company values their inputs and is flexible to their culture and their sense of priority. When I was there for example, one afternoon all the workers went away to a wedding. The factory literally stopped. The schedule is flexible to their traditional way of living; their cultures and numerous Balinese ceremonies are respected.
Creatively use and respond to change:
Within a company this principle is implemented through good management. The decision of reducing work hours to 4 days per weeks in 2008 is one way of creatively using and responding to change. In a company this principles can be applied to research and development and Richard does that well at Bali-Asli. They also realised that Climate change is impacting their company and the community. In 2015 the wet season was not good so they will work toward installing a water tank in the near future.
Future projects include the creation of a yoga and meditation centre near Pupuan and to design their gardens so it can sustain their food need and the workers lunch.