Destruction of tropical rain forests, chiefly by
slash-and-burn subsistence farmers, is rapidly destroying one of earth's greatest
resources. Yet this is the most available option for the ever growing multitude of
landless, poor farmers who "plow with fire." Throughout tropical Asia and
elsewhere this practice has left behind tens of millions of hectares of denuded grasslands
that no longer afford a livelihood for the poor cultivators. As monsoon rains leach out
nutrients and erode hillsides, the climate changes and once verdant areas become
wasteland. The resulting declines in productivity make malnutrition the most serious
health problem of the less developed world.
Reverend HAROLD WATSON, whose parents were farmers near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was born
in 1934. After graduating from high school he served with the U.S. Air Force in Texas and
Okinawa. On his return he studied agricultural education at Mississippi State University,
was ordained a Baptist minister in 1958, and went on to attend Southwestern Baptist
Theological Seminary in Forth Worth, Texas. After teaching vocational agriculture in
Eatonville, Mississippi for three years, he was appointed to serve as an agricultural
Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board.
Arriving in the Philippines in 1964 WATSON and his wife, Joyce spent the first year in
Manila studying the Ilongo language. Soon after reporting to Southern Baptist College in
M'lang, Cotabato, WATSON was asked to develop and direct a church camp in Kinuskusan,
Davao del Sur. Later a benefactor in Nashville, Tennessee, made it possible for him to
purchase an adjoining hillside-which had been farmed for 20 years and then abandoned
because of impoverished soilto use for experimenting on techniques for erosion
"In the beginning we tried so many ways to stop the erosion and rebuild soil
fertility. None of them really worked," WATSON has said. The terraces they built
washed out and the information the universities provided was not applicable to local
In 1973 WATSON had obtained seeds from Hawaii of the Giant Ipil Ipil, a nitrogen-fixing
tree known scientifically as Leucaena leucocephala Based on use of this tree, he and his
co-workers, including a dozen professional agriculturists, developed SALT, or Sloping
Agricultural Land Technology. They planted double hedges of Leucaena on contours four to
six meters apart, cutting the trees back ten times yearly to keep them low and dense; the
leafy tops were used to fertilize the crops planted (without plowing) between the hedges.
Corn, beans, pineapple, coffee, bananas, peanuts, sweet potatoes and fruit trees all
Another development is the FAITH (Food Always in the Home) Garden. Bamboo baskets are sunk
a third of a meter in the ground and packed with house and garden waste and ipil ipil
leaves. Tomatoes, squash, eggplant and other vegetables are planted around the baskets and
draw their fertilizer from them. After each crop the compost in the basket is spread on
the soil to enrich it and the basket is refilled. He also introduced new breeds and
methods of raising ducks, rabbits, goats, pigs and pond fish; better vegetable seed; and
ideas for utilizing Leucaena for feed. The center sells animals and information booklets
cheaply to the poor farmers, and encourages translation, reprinting and condensing of all
materials in order to distribute widely the information therein.
Every year more than 6,000 people come from Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri
Lanka, Thailand and other Asian countries to visit WATSON's remote center; and one
thousand farmers and technicians attend its short seminars. Youths aged 18 to 28 are given
a four-month training there and at three other BOOST (Baptist Outside Of School Training)
centersZamboanga del Sur, South Cotabato, and Agusan del Sur. They study health,
cooperative action and the Bible while learning better agricultural methods.
Fundamental to WATSON's approach to restoring productivity to abandoned mountainsides and
other wasteland is that every new technology must be one that the poorest farmer can adopt
and profit from. As a result his program is giving hope both to his needy rural neighbors
and to those concerned with the burgeoning need for more productive farming in tropical
regions around the globe.
In electing Reverend HAROLD RAY WATSON to receive the 1985 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes his encouraging
international utilization of the Sloping Agricultural Land Technology created by him and
his co-workers to help the poorest of small tropical farmers.