By Henrylito D. Tacio
Buencamino “Boy” Talabucon was only three years old when his family left Tondo, Manila to settle in Davao del Sur. Coming from a poor family, he started driving a jeepney after graduating from high school. “For more than 10 years, I drove a passenger jeep,” he said. “Twelve hours along bumpy road. It was grueling.”
Boy decided to quit driving and became a farmer. A distant relative allowed him to till his 1.5 hectares land on the slope of a mountain provided that Boy remits 25 percent of his produce.
With very little knowledge on farming, he cleared one-fourth hectare of the farm and planted corn. Initially, the harvest was good. But the production of his farm significantly reduced as years went by.
He was ready to give up farming when he learned about Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) while attending a meeting conducted by a European-funded organization. Fortunately, he was chosen as one of those who would attend training at the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc. in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur.
After the training, he returned home and adapted the technology he learned from the training center. He also adopted other livelihood technologies in his farm. Now, his farm is teeming with various crops.
Boy is just one of the thousands of farmers trained by the MBRLC on various sustainable farming systems. Every year, some 6,000 people to the center to observe, see and adopt the technologies which the center has developed through its years of existence.
Almost one-third of those who come to the center opt to immerse themselves on the training programs which the center offers. “Most of those who undergo training are farmers,” said Elsa N. Ablayon, the current head of the training department. “But we also train technicians, teachers, students, and even participants send to us by government agencies.”
Among the government agencies that utilize MBRLC as their partner in countryside development are the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and Department of Education (DepEd).
During the 30th anniversary of MBRLC, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo hailed: “The MBRLC has been at the forefront of improving the lives of Mindananaoans, both physically and spiritually. You have provided our people, especially our upland farmers, with the necessary guidance in order to become productive members of society.”
The MBRLC is a non-government organization located 86 kilometers away from Davao City (the travel time from the Ecoland bus terminal is about two hours). It nestles at the rolling foothills of Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak.
At its 19-hectare farm are various farming technologies which most people can adapt and follow in their respective farms. As one British who came to the center wrote in his report: “This relatively small operation is the most self-sufficient of all of the projects seen on this trip, and has had an influence throughout the Philippines and elsewhere far out of proportion to its size.”
Actually, the center was a product of the masteral thesis of its founder, the Rev. Harold Ray Watson, an agriculturist from Brooklyn, Mississippi. “When I was doing my research, I found out that most training programs on farming from all over the world have facilities but not actual demonstration farms,” he said in an interview some years back. “So, I decided to put up this training center where farmers can actually see and learn what they are hearing from the lectures.”
This what makes the MBRLC truly unique in its training programs. “Unlike other training centers which don’t have their own signature technologies, MBRLC has founded, tested and popularized the systems it has been doing,” said Ablayon, who graduated from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños.
She cites the case of Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) and its modifications. “In terms of authenticity,” she explained, “the center has all the rights and authority to training people because all the models can be found and all the data are available for all to see.”
The MBRLC has a “farmer-oriented philosophy.” As Watson puts it, “Our philosophy is, if you have something that works, go ahead with it. It doesn’t need to be perfect, since people won’t copy systems perfectly anyway.”
Which is why its technologies are catered to the needs of the poorest of the poor. “Our aim is to promote projects and systems that would enable rural people to improve their standard of living,” said Roy C. Alimoane, the current director of the center.
Aside from SALT, the MBRLC is also known for Simple Agro-Livestock Technology (SALT 2), Sustainable Agroforest land Technology (SALT 3), Small Agrofruit Livelihood Technology (SALT 4), and Food Always In The Home (FAITH) gardening. It also offers trainings on plant propagation (grafting, budding and seed production) and nursery management, livestock raising (goats, pigs, chicken, and rabbits), and aquaculture (particularly tilapia raising).
Its most recent technologies include vermicomposting (composting with earthworms), natural pig raising (using the Korean method), and natural fertilizer and pesticides formulation.
For community development, MBRLC offers training on extension techniques and strategies. It also conducts training on water development. There is also a resident program for young people called Baptist Outside Of Training (BOOST), where the trainees are taught how to become family assets instead of liabilities.
“Our training programs are designed to help and equip the trainees,” Ablayon said. “We conduct our training in a way that only 25 percent are allotted to lecture while the remaining 75 percent are spent in doing something.”
MBRLC calls this method as “hands on experience.” For instance, in SALT training, the participants must learn how to use the A-frame in locating the contour lines of a slope. They must also know how to propagate hedgerow species like Flemingia macrophylla and Desmodium rensonii and how to plant them in the located contour lines of the farm. In raising goats, they have to practice how to milk and disbud goats.
Since its humble beginnings in 1971, MBRLC has become one of the most-often visited places in Mindanao. To date, over 300,000 people have paid a visit to the farm. People from other countries also come to the center. Among the countries represented were Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, El Salvador, Fiji, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.
Zacarias B. Sarian, the Agriculture editor who visited the training center in 1998, commented: “It is not surprising therefore by MBRLC is a favorite destination of people from here and abroad looking for a model of upland farming.”
MBRLC has received various citations and awards from different award-giving bodies. In 1991, the regional office of the Food and Agriculture Organization bestowed the Food Day Silver Medal for “its contribution to mobilizing people’s participation in tree planting and sustainable forest resources management.” Previous to that, in 1989, it received a presidential citation from then-president Corazon C. Aquino.
Its former director, Rev. Watson, was also honored with the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1985 for peace and international understanding “for encouraging international utilization of SALT” and other farming technologies.
The US$20,000 prize he got for the award was donated to the MBRLC treasury. “I like to preach,” he said, “but sometimes preaching has its shortcomings when people are hungry, or when they’re diseased or poor. The thing I’ve wanted to do is be involved in people’s problems.”
Although Watson is no longer with the MBRLC, his legacy continues. The MBRLC is still serving the needs of those who come to the center. “We will be here as long as we are needed,” Alimoane said. “We can help and teach them how, but they must do them themselves. Outsiders can help, but insiders must do the job.” — ###