My Favorite Small Businesses in Bali

By Jerry Harter, KF13 Indonesia

During my three months in Bali, I gained an appreciation of people’s resourcefulness here.  I encountered many ways that people make a living.  Typically, families have multiple streams of income, although ‘trickles of income’ is a perhaps a more apt description.

Various small enterprises are cobbled together, depending on the resources and demand in the area.  Often some money can be made from the land – crops, bee keeping, pig farming, a little more can be made from manufacturing – handicrafts, wood carving, brick making, and perhaps some income is derived from providing services – kiosks, transport, spa services.

For one reason or another, the following are some of my favorites.

Ice Vendor – My favorite small business during my time as a Kiva Fellow was the Ice Lady of Singaraja.  I met her during my first week in Bali.  She was one of the businesses that got its start with a loan from Koperasi Mitra Usaha Kecil (MUK), Kiva’s microfinance partner in Bali.  Aside from her bright smile, I was surprised that she was only 52 and the single mother of an eleven year old daughter.

Ice Vendor with her Freezer

They live in a shanty of a house with a rutted dirt floor.  Little light enters her home and the furnishings are spare – a bed, a table, a couple of chairs, and most importantly her business equipment – two small freezers that she purchased with her loan.  She runs her business from her home.  It is quite simple.  She fills plastic bags with water, freezes them, and sells them to fishermen – that’s it.  But as simple as this is, she makes an adequate living that allows her to send her daughter to school.  With an education, her daughter’s economic future will likely be brighter.

Soy Bean Soup Cart – One day while in the field with Pak Alit, the founder of MUK, we stopped in Singaraja on the north coast of Bali.  We did a little shopping in town and then noticed a man pushing a food cart along the street. He was selling a concoction of cold soybeans in sweetened coconut milk.

Soy Beans and Sweet Coconut Milk - Bagus!

As we hadn’t eaten for a while, this seemed like a good way to get some fast-food before continuing our journey.  Pak Alit ordered us a couple of servings and then struck up a conversation with the guy.  I later learned that the man made a pretty good business.

Every day, he cooked up the beans at home, loaded his cart and hit the road.  In four hours he was sold out and had made enough to live on for the day.  However, although I really like the man’s business model, I guess the main reason this hit my favorites list is that soybeans with sweetened coconut milk tastes really good!

Kiosks – The kiosk is ubiquitous throughout Bali.  In fact, I’ve seen them in just about every country I‘ve traveled.  I love them.  I love their simplicity, I love their potential, and I love all the little necessities and treasures they offer.

At the kiosk, I can expect to find packets of instant coffee, laundry detergent, batteries, and most importantly, exotic little packets of sweet or savory treats.

Enjoying Kiosk Ambiance

The store front is simple and colorful – sometimes consisting of no more than a two meter square wooden shack with colorful strings of packets dangling around the front window like Christmas ornaments.  Other kiosks are larger, with room to walk and explore.

I often poke my head into a kiosk and look around.  The shopkeeper asks what I want.  However, I don’t know how to say ‘hidden treasures’ or ‘special treats.’ So I look until I discover something and say ‘saya mau tiga’ – I want three of those.

It takes very little to start a kiosk, yet it has the potential of growing into a significant mini-market or more.  Microloans are often provided for kiosks to enable owners to build the quantity and variety of their inventory.  With a bit of luck and hard work, a small kiosk can grow into a significant business.

Honey Production – When I arrived in Blimbingsari, I noticed many small boxes hanging from trees by wires.  I soon learned that many people around Blimbingsari keep bees for honey production.

How Sweet It Is!

It’s a natural process, where a small box, perhaps a cubic foot in volume, is hung from a tree by wires (to keep ants away).  The bees arrive from the surrounding forests and are naturally attracted to the boxes.  They are not managed and maintained as is often done for honey production.

As there are many types of flowering plants in the area, the flavor of the honey will vary depending on what’s currently blooming.  Coconut and coffee flowers are considered to be particularly good sources.

People might keep about 50 boxes and produce about 30 liters of honey in two months which can sell for about $10 per liter.  Microcredit loans have been used to grow honey production businesses by allowing entrepreneurs to build the boxes and process the honey.

Coconut Palm Sugar – Coconut palm sugar has gained a reputation as being more healthful than its cousin cane sugar.  In Blimbingsari, palm sugar production is an important small business.  An entrepreneur may have about 40 trees and be able to harvest and process 15kg of sugar in two days.

Coconut Palm Sugar

But it is not easy work.  Twice a day, someone has to climb the trees, cut away a slice of the flower to allow the juices to flow, collect the flowing sweet juice, and then cook and process it for about 6 hours.  The palm sugar is then poured into small containers, perhaps into half of a coconut shell.

The finished palm sugar will sell for about one dollar per kilo at the production level. The production workers will get about 90% of this and the owner of the trees about 10%.

And Many More… – There are many more types of small businesses in Bali – spas, woodcarving, brick making, motor bike taxis (ojeks), and of course pig farming to provide food for all the Balinese ceremonies.  To support a small business that interests you, whether in Indonesia or elsewhere in the world, search for Kiva entrepreneurs at  Small loans really do make a difference in people’s lives.

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Jerry Harter volunteered as a Kiva Fellow with Koperasi Mitra Usaha Kecil  (MUK) in Bali, Indonesia from November 2010 through January 2011.  Interested in alleviating poverty by supporting small entrepreneurs?  Visit Kiva today and make a loan.  And while you’re there, check out the Kiva Fellows program.

About the author

Jerry Harter