Question and Answer with Dr. Arnel del Barrio

‘We are here in PCC to increase the farmers’ income’ – Acting Executive Director Arnel Del Barrio

(Dr. Arnel del Barrio (AdB), Acting PCC executive director, sat down recently with multi-awarded journalist Dr. Anselmo Roque (AR), who is currently Philippine Daily Inquirer correspondent for Nueva Ecija, for an interview. Herewith are the questions and answers fielded in that interview. – Ed)

AR – Do you have a special liking or love for the carabao?

AdB – Well, I am always touched by the history of the carabao. I always take picture whenever I see one.

AR – You must have a deep sense for the carabao then?

AdB – Let us say my love for the carabao is ingrained in me. When I was young, my father had 16 carabaos. I always rode then on the carabaos especially when I was grazing them.

AR – Where were you staying then?

AdB – I was born in Lag-on, Daet, Camarines Norte. I am 3rd in a brood of three boys and four girls.

My father was a tenant working on a four-hectare rice land with the use of our carabaos. All of us finished college but I was the only one who took up agriculture. Maybe that was because I took up my secondary education at the Camarines Norte National agricultural school.

AR – You were a stay-in student in that school?

AdB – Yes. Our place was 17 kilometers away from the school. I went home Sunday afternoon and left for school the following morning. I was an independent student-farmer raising rice crops, cassava and chicken. We had our income then. We sell our produce in order to have income.

AR – Did that awaken your liking to take up agriculture in college?

AdB – I believed that was my turning point in life to have a particular liking to agriculture. I took up BSA at UPLB with animal science as my specialization. Then I went on to finish my masteral degree in animal nutrition and my Ph. D. in animal science major in animal nutrition.

AR – Did you go back to your village after your graduation?

AdB – Yes. I went into farming while waiting for my documents from school. Then I went back to UPLB to wait for my documents as I graduated in October. Then I saw an announcement that Dr. Vicente Mamoñgan needed a research assistant for his work at the PCRDC (Philippine Carabao Reseach and Development Center). I applied and was accepted as a science research specialist. That was in January 1983. Later, I was promoted to the post of agricultural center chief and then was designated as center director of PCC at UPLB.

AR – So you would say, Sir, that you were prepared to be the head of PCC as you have the necessary academic preparations and the trainings?

AdB – Well, as to the term prepared, it comes from many considerations. Academically, in 1992, I am already a Ph.D. degree holder. I also had trainings abroad. I was never thinking that I would someday become a center director. But the opportunity came. I was recommended to the chancellor of UPLB but Dr. (Libertado) Cruz asked that I be sent first to Kansas State University for a seven-month post-doctoral research through PCAARRD- DOST to widen my horizons.

AR – Did you meet your wife in UPLB?

AdB – Yes. She is from San Pablo, Laguna working in the Institute of Animal Science at UPLB. Later, she transferred to PCRDC and we were married in 1987 and established residence in UPLB.

AR – But you did not opt to work abroad?

AdB – I was given the chance when I was in the US. I was offered to work in several projects as a research fellow. But I said I have to go back to the Philippines.

AR – When were you appointed executive director of PCC?

AdB – June 11, 2014 and I took my oath of office before (Agriculture) Secretary (Proceso) Alcala in Laoag City.

AR – What ran through your mind when you were appointed executive director of PCC?

AdB -Well, I didn’t believe at first that I was appointed executive director of PCC. You know, I am not politically connected and I am not known in the department (of agriculture). But probably I am known by our partners outside, like the regional offices because I was very active in several organizations. I became president of the Association of Professionals in Livestock Production, Philippine Society of Animal Nutritionists, and the Philippine Society of Animal Science. I am a member and had been a regular speaker in the dairy congress.

AR – But after you received your appointment, did you have an overwhelming feeling considering the enormity of the responsibility heaped on your shoulders?

AdB – Well, to tell you the truth, that I quivered when I was informed about it by (Agriculture) Undersecretary Jose Reaño. There was a search committee last December and I was interviewed last January. Then I received the call informing me of my selection (as executive director) after I was nominated to the President.

AR – Director, you already visited the PCC regional centers. What’s your initial assessment about them?

AdB -We seem to be different from other government institutions. Our centers are beautiful and vibrant because Director Cruz really prepared them well. For the last 20 years, there was full of enthusiasm; the talks were high level and we were always inspired to meet our targets. Our center in UPLB was small but in terms of geographical assignment, we covered three regions and we supposed we did well.

AR – Would you say that all centers are already touching lives?

AdB – Probably some of them need to work double time. I told them that in reading the law that created PCC to select the words to describe what we want to happen, the easiest to remember is “to increase income of farmers.” So we are here to contribute for the increased income of farmers.

AR – So you consider it as the first and the premium gauge of the effectiveness of PCC and the men and women of PCC?

AdB -Yes. If you have not helped the farmers, then the implementation of the law is sadly lacking. We should not be content only with the production of crossbreds but also the increased incomes of farmers. So, what I am saying is that all the centers must have strong (carabao-based) enterprise development program.

AR – What do you want to see in the future in your term as regards the centers?

AdB – I want to see dairy hubs working well in the regional impact zones as well as in the National Impact Zone. The dairy hub is a simple manifestation of a successful dairy operation in which it is not only producing and selling milk but also producing grasses, selling supplies, having a bank that makes credit available, with organized collectors of milk and efficient delivery system to the market, among others.

AR – Are you thinking of the centers establishing a sort of one-stop shop for this activity?

AdB – For me, the one-stop shop center is just a component of the dairy hub. In it, only the resources needed by the farmers and processors are there. They are only inputs. But there should be serious considerations for marketing and others. In other words, the dairy hub must be concerned about the needs of farmers, the aspect of ‘businessizing’, the needs of the carabaos, the people involved in the program, the public and others. There should be regular supply of feed that’s why I am an advocate of silage production which must be commercialized.

AR – I went to a meeting of the farmer-leaders in Muñoz and there came a representative of a government agency which complained that the ordinance about the burning of rice straw is not being followed by the farmers. In my view, the farmers will continue burning the heaps of rice straws in the field when it is about time for another cropping. Are you not coming out with a system to teach farmers to bale the rice straw in order for them to earn from it?

AdB – Actually, I started that already in General Trias (Cavite). I talked with the coop officers and told them that their problem is about their animal’s feedstuff. I taught them how to use the baler machine given by PCC, about the costing, and how to market them. They were able to bale about 50 tons of rice straw and they were able to sell them to the farmers. The commercialization of rice straw, that’s the solution to avoid its burning. But if there is no sector that will handle the baling and the marketing, the problem will persist.

AR – If there is no baler machine, can we not teach the farmers to use a simple of baling the rice straw and of selling them?

AdB – Yes, we can. We have manual wooden baler machine. It is easy to contrive it and probably it will not cost P200. For the baling twine, we may use ordinary plastic rope. But the simplest really is the use of the sack as container for the rice straw. I saw that in Kenya. The children put the rice straw in sacks and they sell them in the sidewalks.

AR – And do you think that with the developments in our carabao-based enterprises, we can turn the rice straw into gold?

AdB – It should really turn into money and it will help our livestock production grow. Our problem really is the feed stuff. Our livestock industry is not expanding much. In our case, if we take care of three or four animals and our land is limited, how can you think of adding more to your animal stock? You can only increase your inventory if you have outside sources of the feed stuff. The only way is to buy it, anyway you are earning. The feed sector must also earn in order to flourish.

AR – Is the PCC buying the baled rice straws?

AdB – The PCC will buy them, the coops will buy them. We know that the livestock raisers are already saddled with the works in managing their animals; they don’t have much time to do the baling of the rice straw. That’s what I am saying, we need the services of other sectors. That’s an input to production. In a value chain, the feed stuff is one limiting factor in the expansion of the livestock industry especially as far as ruminants’ feeds are concerned. If we are saying that the burning of the straw isn’t halted, it’s because nobody is packing and selling it.

AR – So if we can start this job of baling the rice straws, we can change this habit of burning the rice straw in the field?

AdB – We saw it being done in Thailand and in China. It is a commercialized system. The workers will earn from it and it will make the livestock raisers also earn from it.

AR – I understand that the essence of PCC is upgrading the native carabao, not necessarily importing purebreds. How far has PCC gotten into this?

AdB – The manifestation of that is what we are seeing nowadays. We have more than 500 technicians collectively all over the Philippines. In reality, their potential is doing more than 120,000 AI services in one year. Assuming we get 25% pregnancy rate, that’s the number of CB we are producing annually. But it is not that fast because the small-hold farmers are scattered, unlike in a highly commercialized system wherein the animals are confined. So the issue is how we can encourage the farmers to bring or call the technicians for the AI services.

AR – Are you saying that we can have more crossbreds or purebreds if we can have bigger number of confined animals?

AdB – We want to have multiplier farms which is a new program in which we can entrust on certain conditions more carabaos to the farmers. In the past, it’s the “paiwi” system wherein we entrusted up to five carabaos. So we aren’t able to demonstrate fully the profitability of it because of many limitations. In the multiplier farm system, we’re talking of an entrepreneur who may be entrusted 20, 50 or 75 head of carabaos. He has the capability, the capital, and therefore will be there in reproduction and even in the production of more milk because all the production inputs are available.

AR – Is it also for multiplying offspring for distribution to others?

AdB – Eventually it will happen because the concept is that we will lend 20-25 head and specific number of reproduced female carabaos will be returned to be given to the farmers for cascading effects. Instead of PCC raising the animals, the private groups will do it to produce the offspring. They will collect the milk, sell it and earn from it and they will give back the number of offspring to PCC for distribution to the farmers.

AR – Are you thinking of forming groups of entrepreneurs to put up a multiplier farm or a corporation that will invite other investors like OFWs who will chip in money for putting more carabaos in the farm?

AdB – Actually, we have now some models on that in Leyte and in Nueva Ecija. It can be done on a company, group or individual basis, depending on their capabilities.

AR – Is this something new in the PCC?

AdB – Yes. It’s for the first time that we are implementing it.

AR – How many are you foreseeing involving in it?

AdB – Our initial target is 500 pure Italian buffaloes. This is our project to increase the efficiency in the reproduction of the animals and for greater profitability.

AR – Are you employing other programs to hasten the crossbreeding of native carabaos? I read somewhere that the number of carabaos are not improving but is declining?

AdB – The inventory (of the animal) is a product of many factors. One is slaughter rate, then importation of carabeef from India, then growth rate, and mortalities. Those are the equations in it. In terms of carabao slaughter rate, it’s higher now. Formerly, it was 11-12% but it has gone up to 16% on the industry level. And the importation is almost flat, not increasing, while the human population is increasing and the demand for animal protein is increasing so our local stocks are slaughtered. It’s possible that the carabao population has not changed but the type of animal has improved because we now have many crossbreds which are utilized for dairying and for other purposes. For many years, we didn’t see the contribution of the carabaos in the local dairy production. But now, we are seeing the contribution of 34% of local dairy production or about 6.2 million liters of milk from the carabaos. It has been increasing yearly and if equated and translated for the farmer’s welfare, that’s big. That’s the contribution of PCC to the dairy industry.

AR – Do we have other ways for the production of CBs?

AdB – It’s the pushing and the pulling: pushing for production and for pulling the demand for dairy. The demand for milk will push production. We always say that the market is weak, but the demand for the milk is very high. What we can do is to make production and demand meet squarely.

AR – Can we not ask the institution of a system in which, according to what Dr. Surendra Ranjan is happening in India, we can ask the companies in the country dealing with milk to buy first 10% of our milk before they are allowed to import?

AdB – Dr. Cruz always said that we have many laws in the dairy industry. Every time we buy milk from abroad, there should be a share for the local industry. But the money is not used for the industry, otherwise the industry should already be very big by now. I learned from Vietnam that in increasing their milk production, they bought close to 5,000 dairy cows to start the dairy. In our case, we only import a few just to serve as models for demonstration.

AR – How different are the Vietnamese compared to the Filipinos in terms of liking for milk?

AdB – We are the same. They are saying that we are not used to drinking of fresh milk, except that of India and Pakistan. We need more promotion. In television, what we are seeing mostly is advertising for imported milk. We already have products from our milk that are exportable, like our mozzarella cheese and other products.

AR – Are you certain that if we have high production of milk, many will buy it?

AdB – Yes, that’s the pulling aspect. We know that we have a big population but only a few are demanding for our milk. There should be a real matching of production and marketing. We have a lot of things to do to match production and marketing.

AR – Based on what you told us, the carabao-based industry is closest to your heart. Which aspect of it that you want to improve some more?

AdB – Based on the law, the only mention is to help the farmers increase their income. We really need to organize the farmers because if we do not pool their efforts and production, they wouldn’t have that capability to produce quality products and to market them. If we help them form their own groups or associations or coops, they can have their collection system, they can create their small processing system and later have partners in marketing. Then you will see that we are creating village-based enterprises that can be connected to the right market.

AR – Can we really make our farmers market their own produce? Or should it be a job of those who are experts in marketing?

AdB – The value chain is long. But if you observe, NEFEDCCO (the federation in Nueva Ecija), at the moment, is a consolidator of milk. It is selling raw milk, producing milk products, and selling them to their developed market.

AR – But they hired a professional manager.

AdB – The hiring (of a professional manager) is dependent on the production level. If you can collect 1,000 liters of milk a day, you can hire a marketing manager. But if you are producing only 200 liters of milk a day, you can’t afford it so the officers of the coop will be the one to do it. If you increase production, you will already need experts to tackle the complex works involved.

AR – How about the business of meat? What’s your view about it?

AdB – We are knowledgeable about meat processing but the marketing (of the meat products) in the country is still traditional in nature. The traders buy the excess animal of the farmers and bring them to the auction market and sell them to different slaughterhouses. But we talked recently with the Federation of Cattle Raisers Association of the Philippines and we will study the fattening of the carabaos by private groups. We will provide them 20 head (of buffaloes) to fatten them like the cows and sell them. Let’s see if the system will work. Also the excess or male CBs of the farmers will be asked to be brought to the private groups, which will fatten them, slaughter them, and sell them to the high-end market. We know that the cold cuts have higher values.

AR – Are you pushing for this system?

AdB -Yes, it will start soon and we will have models for that. The initial herd will come from Mindanao and will be brought to Canlubang, Laguna, for three to four months fattening, slaughter them later and sell to the high-end market.

AR – How about the other by-products of carabao like the hide, horn, the nails?

Adb – These are the under-utilized by-products of the buffalo. We will partner with private groups which have the facilities to produce various products out of them.

AR – Do you think the finished products from the by-products of carabaos will be saleable?

AdB – The hide of the carabaos has many uses – for making bags, belts, key chains, and others. We haven’t really made the right connections to the industry. It is of big value to tanneries which make it for car seats.

AR – You developed sausages at UPLB, why isn’t this being produced commercially in many areas? Also, we have collections of carabao meat recipes and many restaurants are also serving delicious food from carabao’s meat. Why don’t we consolidate them and showcase them to the people in different places?

AdB – We really need takers of technology and producers who will produce them on a sustainable basis. As of today, we are still demonstrating the potentials of the carabaos. It is not yet in private sector’s hands. If we can make collaborations work, we will see lots of things happening for the carabaos.

AR – So instead of PCC doing the efforts, it will help private groups to model them and make them work?

AdB – Ours is the demonstration of the enterprises. It is the private group that will be encouraged to commercialize them. There are others who are asking if PCC is engaged in business. We always say no, we are just developing enterprises that will work and transfer them to the private sector later.

AR – I understand that PCC as a rationalized agency has new theme or direction under your charge. What is this all about?

AdB – It is the concept of “intensified research-based enterprise build-up” (IREB, as coined by Dr. Cruz) in rural communities. It is the story in the years to come. IREB envisions carabao-based enterprises, backed up by continuing research, flourishing in rural areas in the new developmental efforts of PCC. The DBM (Department of Budget and Management) wants to maintain PCC as an R&D agency. We just added the program that will make the different sectors that indeed we are really helping the farmers. The approach is the R4D (research for development). We have to focus on the problems of the farmers, research on them, then transfer the findings to the farmers to ease or solve their problems. We know that the real problems that should be worked on are those coming from the farmers. They should be looked at, analyzed, find the root causes, and do the research works to solve the problem. That’s the essence of R4D. That’s difficult to do because we were taught a different approach. We just go on researching but without the transfer of the research results.

AR – So in essence, the R4D will reflect the success of the various activities of PCC?

AdB –The real manifestation of the PCC is the increased income of the farmers. All that should be done should be toward increasing the farmers’ income. This is the indicator that can be easily gauged and the manifestation of the intent of the law. The farmers will be happier if their income will be improved because of their livelihood activities.

AR – In your term of office, what will be your battle cry or banner undertakings?

AdB – The carabao-based enterprise development program. The regional impact zones must evolve as dairy hubs because it means the completeness of the players involved. It is necessary that all the elements needed by the industry will be present

AR – In doing it, are you not forgetting other concerns, like environment, transcending boundaries?

AdB – If there is scaling up of operations, somehow, you are affecting or damaging the environment. But we are urged to research or employ innovations on how to take care of the environment. We really need programs to address environmental problems. We have collaboration with Philrice, like on using the carabao’s manure as organic fertilizer for rice growing and the use of rice straw for feed. I am pushing for a national forage program and this will be parallel to the Genetic Improvement Program so that the productivity of the animal will improve. We have started it. All we need are the documents to scale up the forage program and to come up with a national forage program for ruminant.

AR – How about your people?

ADB – Like what I said then, the people should be first. We have to capacitate them and harmonize their skills and capabilities to implement the programs of PCC. It is good to have many experts. If we can harmonize them, we will have a very good set of people that will work for PCC. Compared to other agencies, we have the most scientists here in PCC and you can feel their presence in terms of their research capabilities. We really have the right blend of people in PCC and very good facilities. The only big challenge is how to make an effective R&D in a sense that we can be of help in solving the problems of the farmers.

AR – What is your message to the farmers?

AdB – We want you to be our real partners for development because I believe that partnership is the key in the implementation of the carabao development program. We also want to be real partners with other sectors, like the local government units, because we believe that without a healthy level of partnerships it will be difficult to implement and make our programs succeed.

AR – Are you happy in your new job?

ADB – I am only a few months in my new responsibility. But I am happy and inspired working. We don’t see much changes yet but once we implement the changes in structure, big changes will happen. If we really want to succeed, let’s make the competent people ride on the same bus to do our job. Those who you think are not competent, ask them to step out. We will capacitate only deserving people.