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27 Nov

The village of Ban (Desa Ban) in Karangasem, East of Bali, has the distinction of being one of the largest villages in Indonesia, with its 7,200 hectares village boundary joining the craters of Mounts Agung and Abang in the south and then running northerly from both craters to meet on the boundary of Tianyar village, 5km south of the ocean road which connects Amlapura city with Singaraja. All of Desa Ban’s 19 sub-villages lie within 12km of Mount Agung crater which meant that all of the 3,500 or so families from these 19 communities were forced to flee their homes on 22nd of September when severe earthquakes pointed to an imminent eruption of Mount Agung, with the Government Disaster Mitigation Agency raising the alert level to IV, its highest, and ordered all villagers living within 12km of Mount Agung crater to evacuated to designated safer locations. By 29th October, volcanic activity had reduced to a level where the danger zone was reduced to 6-7.5km and only those within this zone were not allowed to return home. That included 8 of our 19 communities.

In 1998, when the East Bali Poverty Project (EBPP) formed a partnership with the 19 communities of Desa Ban to reduce poverty and promote culturally sensitive, sustainable social and economic development, it was clear that their centuries of isolation and abject poverty had been exacerbated by the destruction caused by Mount Agung’s 1963 eruption, which continued on and off until February 1964. In 1998, with short and medium term goals to reduce poverty by improving infrastructure, education, health care resources, water and sanitation, the long term goals were to create livelihoods opportunities through the most beneficial natural resource of bamboo.

Bamboo has played a key role in EBPP’s community based sustainable economic development activities since 2007, including planting more than 80,000 bamboo plantlings and training more than 20 local people, including 7 high school graduates from EBPP’s schools, from 7 different communities in bamboo clump management – in partnership with the late Ms Linda Garland and her Environmental Bamboo Foundation – and bamboo product development. In addition to selling a wide range of size and styles of high quality woven bamboo baskets, produced by our Cegi and Pengalusan communities since 2003, our new bamboo product venture to further empower our communities for the long term is production of high quality bamboo bikes. Starting in November 2016, after recruiting Deni, an experienced bamboo bike builder from Bandung in West Java, we soon had a well-trained local team of 9 bamboo bike builders, using locally sourced bamboo and working from our recently built and well equipped Daya Bamboo Workshop.

A key essential for all bamboo poles before use is to ensure that as soon as harvested, they are cleaned and treated to preserve the bamboo and prevent termite infestation, and then dried to a moisture content of 6-8%. Here was where we experienced difficulties due to our often very humid and cloudy days at our Daya Bamboo Workshop area. I should clarify that Daya, at an elevation of about 950 metres above sea level, is in the valley between Mounts Agung and Abang, with temperatures that can range from an overnight low of 12 degrees Celsius to a high of 32 degrees in the same day, and due to its valley location, has quite high humidity and gets more rain and cloud than the remaining 18 hamlets of our mountain village.

To solve this problem, we built a 4m x 6m ‘drying room’ from matt black painted corrugated zinc sheets to absorb the heat, built pallet-type drying racks inside to stack the bamboo and installed a dehumidifier with fans at the rear to absorb the humidity and increase the temperature – resulting in achieving the desired moisture content of the cut bamboo poles after treatment in a just a few days – whereas before building the drying room, it could take weeks and not achieve the low moisture content required. Now, we can dry the bamboo and maintain the appropriate moisture content until the poles are needed for the next bike!

Since selling our first bamboo custom bike to a British expat in April, which included front and rear bamboo custom made bamboo baskets we have sold more than 40 bamboo bike frames to local businesses and now are developing our website for “East Bali Bamboo Bikes”. We are continuously improving our standards and moving towards a sustainable business where our present team of trained artisans will train others in our village, especially graduate students, both male a female, which we hope will eventually provide home industries for many of our communities and hope that our high school graduates will not need to venture to south Bali to seek work – but can develop their own village, supported by East bali Poverty Project team, with our mission of helping people to help themselves to escape the poverty trap.

Of course, much depends on our Holy Mount Agung going back to a deep sleep and enabling our Cegi, Pengalusan and Daya communities to return home and get back on with their lives, and resuming their bamboo products and bamboo bikes business.

Courtesy of East Bali Poverty Project