By Danny O. Calleja
LIGAO CITY, Aug. 2 (PNA) — After a recent visit to the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) in Nueva Ecija, Albay 3rd District Rep. Fernando Gonzalez decided to push more the need to maintain and improve the genetic line of carabaos in Bicol.
“I am impressed by the PCC’s world-class facilities and I am diligently moving for Bicol to have the same facilities in view of the significant role the carabao has in the lives of our rural folk and farmers,” he told the Philippine News Agency here on Sunday.
Initial to this move, he said, is House Bill No. 5522 which he filed earlier this year seeking for an amendment to the Philippine Carabaos Act of 1992 to include the region in areas of the country where carabao centers operate by way of establishing a Bicol Carabao Center in this city.
Apart from the Nueva Ecija PCC, 12 others exist nationwide but not one in Bicol.
“The said Law created 13 carabao centers throughout the country but not one of them is located in Bicol. It is hoped that with the enactment of this amendatory law, the region shall be assured of the continued conservation, propagation and promotion of the carabao or water buffalo as a source of milk and meat as well as draft animal power and hide to benefit its rural farmers,” Gonzalez said in the explanatory note of the Bill.
These carabao centers as mandated by RA 7307, which was enacted in 1992, are located in Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Cagayan and La Union for Luzon; Negros Occidental, Bohol, Leyte and Iloilo for the Visayas; and Bukidnon, Cotabato, Marawi City and Zamboanga del Norte for Mindanao.
These centers specialize in the development of technology on reproduction, breeding, nutrition, animal health and processing of meat and milk.
They also serve as facilities for the conservation of existing genetic materials in regions where the animals exist, which is a significant contribution in ensuring long-term and sustainable buffalo genetic improvement program.
The PCC’s efforts to conserve existing local germ plasm are complemented with the judicious introduction of riverine buffalo germ plasm into pre-identified population of swamp buffaloes intended to improve the genetic potentials for milk and meat production, thus, maximizing benefits from this species to meet the immediate and medium-term requirements of the rural poor and the growing human population.
Apart from this function, these facilities also serve as the PCC’s implementing arm in the implementation of task of encouraging farmers to establish strong associations or cooperatives to serve as focal point for government assistance in the propagation and dispersal of carabaos and dissemination of technology on the animal.
Among those reaping this assistance are beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and other smallholder farmers.
“We want these benefits also to be within the immediate reach of our farmers and CARP beneficiaries to the fact that the carabao and local agriculture will remain synonymous for many years to come since the industrial sector cannot yet absorb the role of this animal in farm works,” Gonzalez said.
It is an established fact based on numerous studies that in this huge farm animal, there is also milk which contains mineral considered the “most complete food” owing to its protein, fat, lactose, vitamins and minerals, and water, according to Gonzalez.
Citing a report from the PCC, Gonzalez said carabao’s milk is considered the finest among dairy animal milk, being richer and creamier than that of cow or goat due to its high percentage of milk fat which is a good source of energy.
The carabao also offers big opportunities for the meat industry based on recent studies that show buffaloes as better source of quality meat than cattle—triggering the current consumers’ demand for carabeef.
Gonzalez also cited data released by the United States Department of Agriculture which says carabeef has 41 percent less cholesterol, 92 percent less fat and 56 percent fewer calories than beef.
Recent studies regarding the chemical composition of carabeef also show that higher crude protein can be obtained from fresh carabeef than from pork and beef.
The carabao is equally important for its hide, granting that Filipinos consume a lot of “chicharon” made of carabao hide, “kare-kare,” which is partly skin of the animal, and a favorite “pulutan” (appetizer) of softened thin slices of hide spiced heavily with ginger, onion and chili.
According to the PCC, the carabao manure is also of economic importance as organic fertilizer — containing 18.5 percent nitrogen, 43.7 percent phosphoric acid, and 9.6 percent potash — and a good source of fuel either as dried dung, or in generating biogas or methane.
Gonzalez also noted that while there is an existing Regional Carabao Breeding Center in Mandaon, Masbate, which, as part of Bicol, has functions limited only to the propagation and genetically upgrading of native carabaos.
This facility, which is credited for the production of 148 heads of genetically upgraded carabao species as of last year, is located within a 187-hectare property being maintained by the Department of Agriculture regional office for Bicol based in Pili, Camarines Sur.
According to the PCC, the carabao population growth remains in the tapering off situation and the dramatic decline in its number, as of years between 1991 and 2011, could be attributed to low productivity and high extraction and mortality rates.
The agency said that on the average, 220,432 heads of carabao are slaughtered annually, representing eight percent of its population and unless something is aggressively done, this country might wake up one day without a carabao to speak of. (PNA)