Some 300 kilometers from the Philippine Carabao Center at Central Mindanao University (PCC at CMU) in Musuan, Bukidnon another carabao-based enterprise is thriving in the Caraga Region.
The dairy enterprise is a product of PCC at CMU’s partnership with the Caraga State University (Car.SU) in Butuan City. The tie-up took effect in 2000 when Car.SU became a beneficiary of PCC at CMU’s 25-cow dairy buffalo module, which is part of PCC’s herd build-up program to propagate high-quality buffaloes that eventually become sources of milk and meat.
Under the program, 25 head of purebred female dairy buffaloes and a junior bull are loaned to interested institutions or cooperatives upon satisfying several requirements. The recipients will then repay PCC through the first calf produced by each cow.
Couple-professors Dr. Emmanuel and Prof. Miriam Nono were tapped by then Car.SU President Wenceslao Tianero to spearhead the project for the university.
“Pres. Tianero adopted the project not only for instructional but also for research, extension, and income generating purposes,” said Dr. Emmanuel, who was then the director of the university’s Income-Generating Project (IGP) and a professor at the university’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, handling animal sciences courses.
His wife was also a professor in the same college, teaching secondary post-harvest processing and quality evaluation.
Even without prior experience in carabao production, the couple accepted the new challenge.
“I didn’t have any doubts when the project was offered to us, knowing that the university would provide us the needed support,” Prof. Miriam said. She added that they were chosen to head the project because their respective expertise needed in carabao production complemented the other.
“My husband is a veterinarian while I am into food processing,” she said.
Preparations were made for the arrival of the dairy buffaloes. In August, 2000, a shed inside the university’s 200-hectare farm was selected to house the buffaloes. A staff was also sent to PCC at CMU to undergo a one-month training on basic carabao production and management, including dairy processing.
The buffaloes arrived in three batches, starting with 11 head in November 2000 and the last in 2002.
By early 2001, milk started to flow from the buffaloes. Milk collection amounted to about 10 liters daily. Along with their staff and two other student assistants, they started processing the milk.
Marketing the products consisting of pasteurized fresh milk and choco-milk, however, was a bit of a dilemma. In the first place, students of Car.SU, who were the target market of the project, were not milk drinkers. They also held wrong beliefs that carabao’s milk has adverse effect on the body and it can induce a mother who just gave birth into a coma after taking it.
Enlightenment could only come through proper education. Dr. Emmanuel and Prof. Miriam undertook an informal information campaign, highlighting the nutritional values of carabao’s milk to debunk unfounded beliefs.
“We explained to them that the milk came from non-working buffaloes. We also told them of the nutritional benefits of drinking carabao’s milk,” Prof. Miriam said, adding that they had to make other products, such as ice candy, to make these more enticing to students.
Slowly, by word of mouth, more and more people began patronizing the dairy products. The milk became an advertisement in itself, which led non-milk drinkers to reconsider their beliefs. The number of customers gradually multiplied.
Students started bringing fresh milk as “pasalubong”, small gifts to their parents when they went home to their villages. In a way, the students served as unofficial advertisers of the project’s dairy products.
In June 2001, sales began to pick up, an offshoot of the continuous information campaign.
Awareness doubled when former Congressman Leovigildo Banagaag of the 1st district of Agusan del Norte and former Butuan City Mayor Democrito Plaza sponsored a School Children Milk Feeding Program in 86 barangays in Butuan City and its neighboring town, Las Nieves. The milk feeding program ran from 2002 to 2004.
“We processed twice a day to cope with the demand for the milk feeding and delivered the sachets of choco-milk to elementary and high schools in several remote areas,” Prof. Miriam shared. She added that they would buy milk from PCC at CMU when they ran out of raw milk.
For almost four years, the milk processing and marketing activities took place in the university’s Food Technology Center, which was also managed by Prof. Miriam.
It was in 2004 that a formal processing plant and marketing building was established through a grant from then Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor, who allocated P500, 000 for the facility. The university augmented the grant with an allocation to complete the facilities.
Further, using the income from the milk feeding program, they were able to acquire cold storage facilities that are needed to maintain milk quality.
In the same year, they were able to complete the animal repayment obligations to PCC at CMU. Since then, male calves produced were sold while female calves were retained for milking.
At present, the Car.Su dairy project maintains 50 cows and a junior bull for natural breeding.
Expanding the “BumBu” product line
With the increasing acceptance of carabao fresh milk in the area, the challenges for the Nono couple also grew. These included the need to improve their products and introduction of new ones through continuous collaboration with PCC at CMU.
Apart from the two original products, pasteurized milk and chocomilk, the couple produced their own versions of pastillas de leche and yogurt, which come in several flavors. They were also able to develop white cheese, which is a hit among local entrepreneurs who are making pizzas and the community of Indian nationals in the area.
All these products are being sold under the “BuMBu” label, a name penned by the couple. It was derived from Bulgarian Murrah Buffalo, the breed of the buffaloes utilized under the project.
During the initial years of the project, the couple had to dedicate every free time to it.
“We had to extend our duty hours in the project, particularly in the processing and packaging of the dairy products. Usually, we put in two to three hours after office hours to the project and even devoted weekends and holidays without claiming any overtime pay and additional compensation from the university,” Dr. Emmanuel said.
The couple’s sacrifices were more than compensated though as the project is steadily improving through the years.
The original stocks doubled from 25 cows to the current 50. From only 10 liters of total milk collection per day, they are now collecting 20 to 25 liters.
Their market has gone beyond the gates of the campus and is steadily growing. The Car.SU dairy products now reach as far as Manila and even other countries by way of the OFWs who these items when they return for work.
Indian nationals are some of their regular patrons who buy fresh milk early in the morning.
On top of it all, the Nonos are happy with the impact of the project on the community.
“Our customers, especially the students, buy dairy products such as chocomilk instead of soft drinks,” Prof. Miriam related. “This is very important for their nourishment,” she added, agreeing that, in a way, they started the culture of milk drinking in their area.
A passion and an advocacy
The project may relatively be considered established and successful 14 years after its inception. As Prof. Miriam puts it, the enterprise is “progressing.”
Challenges, however, never run out.
Due to the frequent rotational brown out in Butuan City, keeping the products from spoiling becomes a struggle. There were times when they have to throw away spoiled dairy products.
To avoid further losses, the couple would buy large quantities of ice to preserve the products.
The couple would shell out their personal money to keep production going when acquisition of processing materials and ingredients are delayed.
Time and again, the couple has to contend with some intrigues about the project losing. These are easily squelched however by the increase in proceeds and the facilities put up from the sales of the products.
Always striving for improvement, Dr. Emmanuel bared his plans of adding more breeding and production stocks and expanding the processing plant.
He also hopes to develop “more functional, state-of-the-art facilities” and to train “personnel to be able to cater to and serve the needs of interested farmers in the area.”
In 2000 the Car.SU carabao-based dairy enterprise may have started as simply a job assignment for the couple and their colleagues. Today, it has become a passion and an advocacy for them.