The productivity of the carabao subsector, just like any other biological system, is influenced by various factors, such as social, technical, economic, and policy factors. Following is a summary of the perceived main constraints to local carabao production.
Water buffaloes have inherently longer gestation period than any other domesticated farm animal. The average gestation length is 310 to 315 days. Given a post-partum service period of 60 to 90 days, yearly production of calf is not achievable even under the best conditions. This characteristic has a major effect on the measure of the overall reproduction efficiency over a given period.
As has been said, the Philippine carabao is essentially a swamp-type buffalo. It is recognized as a draft animal and has a potential for meat production, but has a low genetic potential for milk production. The genetic potential for growth and milk production can be improved through the introduction of dairy (riverine breed) buffalo germplasm, which has long been demonstrated as possible. The inherently long gestation and service periods, and the late period of reproductive maturity render desired genetic improvement a rather long and tedious undertaking. For example, to produce highly productive animals, it will take about 15 to 20 years, or four to five generations of backcrossing.
Infusion of low-cost, highly productive dairy buffaloes from other sources is hampered by the inherently high cost of importation. Hence, the most practical approach to carabao-based enterprise development is to develop a significant number of highly productive buffaloes through sustained upgrading and infusion of germplasm from elite sires. The time element required in using this approach, however, is relatively long.
Raising carabao in the villages has been largely associated with crop-dominant farming system, thus the carabao is regarded as only an input. This farmer’s perspective has a major impact on the management and overall development of carabao in the villages. Crops being the dominant source of cash, take the premium attention, as well as, investment.
Farmers, whose main purpose of keeping carabao is for draft, find it more convenient to maintain their hand tractors than to take care of a draft animal throughout the year. This is particularly true in rice areas where there is seasonality in cropping and farm activities, because the period when animals are actively used in the field is shorter than the time the animal is at rest. Farmers find it extremely cumbersome to maintain carabao over the longer rest period, just to have the animal ready for the next (short) working season.
However, where farmers get substantial cash income in the form of daily sales of milk, improved husbandry is evident. This is especially true in areas where farmers have animal with higher capability to produce milk.
The constraints associated with a slow rate of technology adoption can be partly assessed based on the above discussion. At the industry level, the option to raise the carabao primarily as a source of income is largely influenced by relative profitability. Compared to cattle, carabao is generally priced much lower as a source of meat. This can be attributed to the fact that a large percentage of carabao sent to a meat market consists of old and retired draft animals. Under this condition, farmers who raise and sell carabao at a younger age for meat are, therefore, penalized. This pricing structure can be expected to persist sometime.
The availability of low-cost buffalo meat from India provides meat processor the option to use imported meat. The extent to which this recent development can influence local buffalo meat production is yet to be determined.
The development of carabao as a source of milk for household and community consumption appears to be feasible. However, this will depend on the ability of the industry to stimulate local milk production at a quantity that would significantly contribute to the total milk supply of the country and, at the same time, compete with the low-cost imported milk.
One major constraint to production, particularly on building up an enterprise, is capital. For years, many lending institutions have created windows for small-scale farmers, yet the effect and impact of these available credit windows on the overall industry have not been significant.
A specialized (farmer-friendly) credit or loan window that would stimulate small-scale farmers to access credit and raise ruminants is very essential.