Yayasan Mitra Bali

Mitra Bali, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, functions loosely as a cooperative representing artisans who make wood, silver, bamboo, coconut, ceramic and other handicrafts. Located on the island of Bali, the organization was formed in 1993 to support poor artisans facing ruin because well-established businesses controlled prices and monopolized the burgeoning Bali tourism market. The cooperative only works with producers who support gender equity, provide healthy working conditions, use environmentally sustainable materials, and do not exploit child labor or women. Mitra Bali helps artisans during periods of low orders with no-interest loans and the loaning of cows. Mitra Bali also supports a reforestation program, an environmental initiative, as well as an effort to prevent artisans from selling their land. Ten Thousand Villages has purchased from Mitra Bali since 1989.

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Small Efforts for Big Changes

With the goal of sustaining wood sources as well as artisans, Mitra Bali, an artisan group based in Bali, Indonesia, has established an innovative tree planting program. “Our goal is to protect the environment, and to protect artisans from becoming landless,” said Agung Alit, Mitra Bali director.



Over the past four years, Mitra Bali’s program has replanted trees that are used for wood carvings and other wood items created by artisans. Types of trees used by artisans include albesia, mahogany, jack fruit and suar. Albesia is a fast-growing tree, while the others take more than 10 years to mature.



A unique aspect of this initiative is that the land used to replant the trees is rented from artisans themselves, often artisans who are facing serious financial problems. “In order to prevent artisans from selling their land, we suggested to them that their land [could be used] as a plantation,” said Alit. “This is a good way [for them] to overcome their financial problems, because by planting the trees artisans earn both a rental fee as well as a percentage of the price when the trees are harvested.”



Many small farmers in Bali are unable to pay the tax on their land, which causes them significant difficulty. This is actually the reason that many become craftsmen, said Alit. Fair trade income from handicrafts provides farmers with another source of income, and the ability to keep their land. Trees in the replanting program are tended by Mitra Bali staff, along with artisans on whose land they are planted. The actual planting takes place each year on World Fair Trade Day.



Alit pointed out that many small farmers in Bali are losing their land. The farmers’ beautiful rice terraces have been a significant draw for tourism, but there is a problem of unfair distribution, said Alit. “Bali became famous for their rice terraces, but the farmers were only an object of photography,” he said. Farmers do not receive support from the government or other stakeholders in the tourism industry, such as hotels and restaurants, and they face high taxes and operating costs. Therefore many are forced to sell their land.



Mitra Bali’s tree planting initiative is firmly grounded in their practice of fair trade, and aligned with international practice. Alit cited the 10 fair trade principles as outlined by the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT), pointing out that they clearly state the importance of better environmental practices and the application of responsible methods of production. “We have to show the public that fair trade is a good alternative in business—not just profit oriented, but also happiness and welfare oriented,” said Alit. “Our tree planting program is a very important program for our planet and for people—both ecologically and economically. Small but big changes!”

Kite Makers in Bali

Yayasan Mitra Bali is an NGO that began in 1993 to provide support for Bali’s small-scale craft producers. The organization wished to challenge the government’s emphasis on foreign aid and externally driven development strategies. Instead, Mitra Bali wanted to highlight the abundance of natural talent among Balinese people. With a vision and a degree of social sensitivity that is all too often absent in Bali, Mitra Bali has continued to work at the alternative trade challenge since its inception. Via a three-department structure, which consists of community development, a design center and a trade department, they work with over 50 artisan workshops and have a staff of 18 people, including two field staff and a designer. The design center, which was built and inaugurated in 2000, is a place where artisans can come for training in product development and to access resource materials via a small library.



Nyoman Suita is one of the artisans who has benefited from Mitra Bali’s assistance. Nyoman lives in Ubud, a small town on the island of Bali, where he started his own kite-making workshop in 1988. Before opening his own workshop, Nyoman worked as a woodcarver for temples and also as a kite-maker for other workshops. The workshop’s name, Suwitraluih, means “great partnership” and is a testament to his relationship with the artisans who work for him. Nyoman is also thankful for his partnership with Mitra Bali, which has allowed him to market his kites and employ more artisans through access to an international market. Kites have been a hobby for Nyoman since he was a little boy, and he is happy that he can now support himself and his seven siblings doing what he loves. Nyoman’s workshop also preserves the long-lasting tradition of handicraft production in Indonesia and the artisans who work with him participate in the annual kite festival.



Nyoman creates the kite frames using locally grown bamboo. Using nylon imported from Japan, he cuts the shape of the kite with a pattern. He paints the nylon and attaches it and the flying strings to the bamboo frame to complete the kite design. He adds the finishing touches with recycled materials. For bird kites, he carves the beaks from recycled surfboards and old air conditioner insulation, purchased from local trash collectors. He uses oil bottles for the teeth and coconut husk for the feet.

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