Davao, 22 August 2009. Some few years back, friends of Leila Rispens-Noel wanted to visit her hometown. But they had difficulty in finding the town on the Philippine map. "I have to describe to my friends where the town is geographically located and assured them not to worry because one day Bansalan will be placed on the map of the Philippines," said the native of Bansalan, Davao del Sur who left for the Netherlands in 1979.
Bansalan, a small town with a total land area of only 20,770 hectares, is subdivided into 25 barangays. It is the boundary between the provinces of North Cotabato and Davao del Sur. Sitting72 kilometers south of Davao City, Bansalan is very accessible by land transportation. The town is sandwiched by two cities: Kidapawan and Digos.
"This is probably the reason why progress in my former town is so slow," wrote Rispens-Noel in her column, Roundtrip: Bansalan-Holland."Vehicles do not linger in Bansalan. Passengers from North Cotabato are eager to reach Digos or Davao City, while passengers bound for North Cotabato pass through to reach Kidapawan City and Cotabato City. It has never been a place where passengers stay longer for one reason or the other. Business activities remain in the hands of a few local enterprising people. And so the town remains largely rural and agricultural, still waiting for a miracle for the local economy to pick up."
But there seems to be always two sides of a coin. In a way, being a laggard in development can also be a blessing in disguise. Bansalan is touted as a "green town" for being "environment-friendly."
Bansalan is the birthplace of the internationally-known Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT). "The system is simple, low-cost, and timely method of tilling the fragile uplands, which comprise about 60% of the country's total land area," explains Roy C. Alimoane, current director of the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc. "SALT helps protect the soil from erosion and leaves of nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs as fertilizer for crops and feeds for livestock."
MBRLC, located in barangay Kinuskusan, is just 10 kilometers away from the town proper. It's a training center for various sustainable farming systems. Considered the "Disneyland of agricultural lovers," people from all over the country travel to this place just to learn the modern technologies it offers.
At MBRLC, several eco-friendly technologies are taught: FAITH (Food Always In The Home) garden; and SALT system and its three other modifications, Simple Agro-Livestock Technology (SALT 2), Sustainable Agroforest Land Technology (SALT 3), and Small Agro-Livelihood Technology (SALT 3). Other training offerings include: how to milk dairy goats, harvest tilapia, and graft fruit trees.
For developing these technologies, the Department of Science and Technology awarded the center "in the area of agricultural production" in 1987. In 1991, the regional office of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognized MBRLC with a World Food Day Silver Medal for its contribution in "mobilizing people's participation in tree planting and sustainable forest resources management." Earlier, in 1985, its former director, Harold R. Watson, was given the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for peace and international understanding for promoting the technologies in various parts of Asia.
The center also houses its affiliate, the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation. "Our main purpose is to help develop and uplift the standard of living of the poorest of the poor in Asia," explains Alimoane, of the foundation which was launched in 1988.
Through the foundation, the staff has trained more than 10,000 people from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and South America. Trainees have included farmers and high-level officials, Christians and Hindus. "Aside from training, they also learned to know more about our country and our culture," says Alimoane.
Bansalan mayor Edwin G. Reyes is vigorous in his support of making the town a tourist destination. He appointed a tourism official and created a tourism council.
The mayor's other development plans also include: agro-industrialization, infrastructure development, economic development program, agricultural development, social services program, peace and order and political stability, fiscal management and human resource development, responsive and participative governance, investment and marketing promotion, and environmental protection program.
Just nearby is the Lao Integrated Farm in the adjacent barangay of Emanwhere durian trees flourish. If you crave for durian, described by one Westerner as a fruit that "smells like hell but tastes like heaven, then this is a must-see spot. The farm, owned by Attorney Benjamin Lao, has 700 durian trees in this five-hectare lot. Other fruits found in the farm include mangosteen, rambutan, and lanzones. Atty Lao also raises goats (purebred and upgraded). His fruits are grown organically as he uses goat manure as fertilizer for his fruit trees.
Two years ago, Lao's farm became a model was bestowed a Gawa Saka Award (integrated farming system category) from the municipal agriculture office. "What I want to convey here is that government service is never a hindrance to engage in other income-generating activities like farming," said Lao.
Another place to visit in Bansalan is the training center of Salinta Monon, the last Bagobo weaver. In 1998, she was named one of the two Manlilikha ng Bayan awardees by the National Commission for Culture and Arts. Her citation reads: "For weaving traditional Bagobo textiles marked by quality workmanship and intricacies of designs and colors of her particular Bagobo community whose unique identity and creativity she has kept alive for the present and succeeding generations."
Other areas to visit while in Bansalan are the Mainit Hot Springs in barangay Managa, Balutakay (where vegetables like cabbages, carrots, cauliflowers, and onions are grown), and Tinago and Angel Falls (which can be visited while on the way to Balutakay).
Every September, the town celebrates Bansaulog, a week-long celebration observed with street dancing. Participants come from various schools, both elementary and high school.