By Catriona Mitchell

In a recent post on our Ubud Now & Then Facebook page, in response to the photo of yet another development project in the rice fields, someone made the comment, “Why do we kill the places we love?”

It was a simple question, and it struck at my heart.

And so last Saturday, I found myself going along to a conference at Bambu Indah in Sayan, to listen to a series of four talks on sustainable tourism in Indonesia – and more specifically, its relationship with local food consumption and carbon emissions.

The good news is, there is interest afoot at government level in developing and implementing sustainable, low carbon tourism across the archipelago. The focus is on energy efficiency, renewable energy consumption and a creative economy that supports conservation and the promotion of traditional knowledge.

To this end, a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between The Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, the National Council on Climate Change (DNPI), WWF Indonesia and the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN Indonesia).

Around 30 people were present at the conference (two thirds Indonesian), including representatives from government, the private sector, educational institutions and NGOs.

Here is a summary of what went down.

Speaker 1: Amanda Katili, Manager, Climate Reality Project Indonesia


“Eating is an agricultural act” – Wendell Berry, cultural critic

In a pithy overview about carbon emissions and their relationship to the day’s theme, Amanda Katili told us that around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and food production – largely caused by the energy used during the processing and production of food, and, crucially, how far the food is transported up to the dinner table.

Tourism accounts for approximately 5% of total global carbon emissions, owing to the energy, transport, hotels, food, beverages and waste management systems required to keep the tourism machine going. Clearly, one key way to reduce these emissions is through increased consumption of local food.

Food produced closer to where it’s consumed not only emits less carbon dioxide because the needs for processing, cooling and transportation are reduced; it’s fresher, tastier, more nutritious, less pumped full of preservatives, and boosts local economies. In other words, where’s the down side?

Before passing on the mic, Amanda talked of some encouraging new schemes springing up within the tourism trade: carbon neutral hotel and resort certifications, zero emission vehicles now in use in Australia, and (perhaps most importantly) zero carbon wine from New Zealand!

Speaker 2 : Adam Majcher – Coordinator, Climate Reality Project at the Australian Conservation Foundation

Are we heading towards nature deficit disorder?

AdamIntroducing himself as a “recovering scientist”, Adam Majcher told us he worked in the area of marine biology until frustration with the Australian government grew too strong and he moved over to conservation as a more effective way to act. Adam now works with the Climate Reality Project in Melbourne, which was set up in 2006 and now has 100 trained staff who are engaged in open, at times challenging dialogues with different sectors – food, tourism, teaching, mining, corporations – to work together toward finding solutions.

The tourism industry in Australia, Adam said, is a healthy one, bringing in $50 billion each year in direct income, however most people visit Australia for its natural wonders, and there’s a massive disconnect between governmental policies and the protection of those natural environments.

One small example of Australian climate change and its impact on tourism, he cited, is the destruction of the pinot noir grape in one of Victoria’s premier wine-producing regions, the Mornington Peninsula. Temperatures over 40 degrees – now not uncommon – destroy the grape’s flavor completely, and entire crops have to be thrown out.

Another example is the increasing prevalence of the irukandji jellyfish in Queensland: amongst other things, its sting causes a person’s blood pressure to spike so hard s/he feels an impending and overwhelming sense of doom, as if death is nigh, and only serious treatment in hospital can alleviate the symptoms. Whereas these jellyfish were relatively scarce two years ago, this is no longer the case; they’re moving ever further south, and it’s no longer safe to swim in some Australian waters.

BabyFoodHowever, despite such concrete examples of climate change in action, Adam ended on an upbeat note, by emphasizing the importance of food as it relates to climate concerns. Food has the potential to connect people to nature, he said, making them think more about it and want to protect it.

He concluded by saying he’s happy to be in Bali on a visit because “we have more to learn from you that you from us, because we’re disconnected – we need much better education across different sectors, sectors that aren’t traditionally environmentalist.” Adam fears an increase in “nature deficit disorder” in Australia – something that wasn’t likely to afflict anyone sitting amongst the lush greenery at Bambu Indah.

Speaker 3: Yusuf Achyaruddin – Director of Special Interest Tourism, Conventions, Incentives & Events at the Ministry of Tourism & Creative Economy

“After 32 years, I am determined to give Indonesia a cultural identity”

Mr Yusuf Achyaruddin’s talk was all about local food – not so much from an environmental point of view as from a marketing one. His mission is to promote traditional Indonesian dishes internationally, to attract increasing numbers of foodies here particularly from the US and Europe.

It’s no easy task to create a cohesive culinary identity for Indonesia, he said, with 70 dialects and 300 indigenous groups to take into consideration.

YA1On advice from Anthony Bourdain, Achyaruddin has been working on a large-scale government incentive to create food icons for Indonesia that will hook the interest of untapped international markets. He spent time talking with 120 leading food experts including chefs and professors from different ethnic groups, and asked them what their favourite dishes were. From the overall list he extracted 30 essential recipes. These have now been compiled into a book, which also tells the stories behind the recipes, and the significance of their names; video documentation is underway as well, and an education centre has been set up in Java to propagate the recipes and build awareness.

Achyaruddin wants to create the equivalent of Japan’s sushi, or Italy’s pizza – an instantly recognisable icon. The most iconic of the “top 30” dishes, in his opinion, is the cone of rice, because the philosophy behind this is the same from Papua to Sumatra – that is, it’s a symbol of the inter-relationships between humans to humans, humans to the environment, and humans to God.


SpicesSpeaker 4: Mary Jane Edleson, Slow Food Bali

“We defend our right to pleasure”

Ubud’s own Mary Jane Edleson stated that because Bali has the international reputation for offering experiences of healing and wellbeing – this being a key part of the island’s image – visitors therefore come here to experience the beauty of nature, along with a desire to taste local food. This provides a business opportunity for the promotion of local ingredients, something that should be incorporated into hotel and restaurant marketing strategies island-wide.

MJEChilliesLocal food consumption, then, is not only about managing climate change in the future; it’s a marketing opportunity to bring customers in. Quite apart from presenting new, eclectic and interesting flavours to visitors, the use of local ingredients is an open display of social responsibility. Some restaurants in the US these days, Mary Jane said, even put photos of farmers on the menus to demonstrate that they know exactly where they’re sourcing their ingredients. This way the customer not only gets a personal touch, but a feel-good factor in participating in sustainable food production. “There is a world-wide movement of people wanting authenticity,” she said, “and I feel that food is one of the best ways.”

Once the talks had wrapped up, we were taken on a guided tour through Bambu Indah’s permaculture gardens – which include a greenhouse built with recycled car windscreens.


Then we were served a dazzling array of local dishes for lunch. 99% of the ingredients had been grown on site. The lunch kind of put into one of Mary Jane’s comments into its correct perspective: “You gotta eat the food to save the food.”

Um, ok, if it’s for the greater good… then sure, I’ll go for seconds!

Scroll down for some images of the lunch served at Bambu Indah, grown within metres of where it was consumed.






Photos and text by Catriona Mitchell