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MBRLC: A Cornucopia of Sustainable Farming Systems

Tourism Books hailed it as one of the best tourist destinations in the Philippines. Former Agriculture Secretary Sonny Dominguez considered it as one of its kind in the country. Discover Philippines touted it as “the Disneyworld of sustainable farming systems.”

All of them are talking about the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc., a non-government organization located at the rolling foothills of Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak.

Every year, MBRLC is host to almost 10,000 visitors. Almost daily, groups arrive in batches just to see various farming schemes which the center has developed through the years of experimentation and consultations.

Three out of four farmers in developing countries farm in the uplands, according to MBRLC founder Harold R. Watson. When they hold a fistful of exhausted soil and let it fall to the ground, he said, “they feel their livelihood slipping through their fingers.”

Soil erodes naturally, of course. But on land laid bare by deforestation, bad farming techniques or overgrazing, 2.5 centimeters of topsoil deposited over a period of 100 years by nature can be washed away in 20 minutes by one heavy rain.

“We are a part of God’s creation, and God gave this work to us to take care of it,” said Watson, an agriculturist who came to the Philippines in the early `60s. “And we’ve done a pretty lousy job. Our land is sick and part of our Christian responsibility is to heal it.”

In the beginning, Watson didn’t know what to do. “When I got here, I had no idea what the problems were up in the uplands,” he said. “Farming looked pretty good on the surface.” But soon enough, he discovered that the problem was the surface: It was washing away.

“Soil erosion is an enemy to any nation-far worse than any outside enemy coming into a country and conquering it because it is an enemy you cannot see vividly,” said Watson when he received the 1985 Ramon Magsaysay Award for peace and international understanding. “It’s a slow creeping enemy that soon possesses the land.”

MBRLC found one solution: SALT or Sloping Agricultural Land Technology. Basically, SALT is a method of growing crops (both field and permanent) between contoured rows of nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs (NFT/S) like Flemingia macrophylla, Desmodium rensonii, lndigofera anil, Gliridicia sepium and Leucaena leucocephala, which are set up 4-6 meters apart.

“SALT is a diversified farm system,” says Roy C. Alimoane, the current MBRLC director. In addition to NFT/S, rows of perennial crops such as coffee, bananas, and citrus may be grown among the corn. The annual crops are rotated: corn is followed by soybeans or peanuts and then followed again by corn. “In this way, a farmer has something to harvest year round,” he adds.

In recent years, three more variants of SALT evolved: Simple Agro-Livestock Technology (SALT 2), Sustainable Agroforest Land Technology (SALT 3), and Small Agrofruit Livelihood Technology (SALT 4).

A farm family can also establish a vegetable garden in their front or backyard. MBRLC calls it Food Always In The Home (FAITH). “This is a simple system of basket composting that assures a family with six members a steady supply of nutritious vegetables with minimal labor throughout the year,” says Alimoane.

Other farming technologies which farmers can emulate include vermiculture (raising of earthworms as source of organic fertilizer for the crops), tilapia raising, seed production, plant propagation. organic farming, hog fattening, biogas. milk processing, and ornamental growing.

Those who are interested to visit the farm may write by sending an e-mail :