White revolution: The farmers’ liberation from hopelessness

ABOUT a decade ago, the usual talk in pained tone by the farmers in a village in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, was their unremitting bondage to hopelessness. Their harvests from their rice and vegetable farming have been in an up-and-down state, their margin of profit in a pittance as cost of inputs goes higher, their debts mounting, and their dreams for a better tomorrow unreachable.

Until they were introduced to carabao dairying. And, they speak no more in pain but in blasts of unbounded glee.

One of them, Melchor Correa, 47, is unabashed in speaking about his unshackled bondage to hopelessness. He is a towering figure of the “White Revolution” launched in the province some years back.

He affirms that this revolution, although fraught by sacrifices, determination and dogged commitment, is worth it – for what successful undertakings are not without those virtues?

Nakabaon po noon talaga sa kawalang pag-asa  (Burried in hopelessness then),” Correa says. “It was a hand to mouth existence then and our children seemed destined to follow our paths,” he added in Tagalog.

Then he got wind about carabao dairying – a relatively new venture that makes use of the carabao’s other breed. Its hope lies on the oozing milk of this mammal and the concomitant carabao-based enterprises. It was unheard of then, as he only knows the carabao is just an ally in farm works. But, it has its other importance: that of directly providing nutritious food and promise of daily income as oppose to the seasonality of rice and vegetable farming. They were, to his estimation, certainly compelling attractions to engage himself in.

“From one, I now have a herd of 30 dairy carabaos, eight of which are lactating,” Correa proudly said.

Prouder was he as he told of his average daily milk yield.

“It is 57 liters,” he said. “I sell it at P54 a liter,” he added.

That’s a cool daily income of P3,078, which in his wildest dream then he could not have imagined. “I expect my 16 pregnant dams to give birth during the year,” he said. They will go on yielding milk for ten months,” he added.

His gains so far, he disclosed, are windfalls for a former downtrodden farmer: a concrete house built on a purchased lot, one hectare more of a rice field, a lot and a functional corral with milking parlor for his animals, a brand new owner-type jeepney, a second-hand car, two motorcycles, several home appliances, and above all the concretization of a dream to see one of his children go up the stage to receive a diploma for finishing a college course.

Correa and his achievements were not alone. In his place, 59 others are members of their dairy cooperatives. Last November, his coop was declared the “most outstanding cooperative” during the National Carabao Conference. Per evaluation, the organization’s members have 432 dairy carabaos with a combined milk harvest of 145,099.65 liters from 91 lactating carabaos.

That milk yield translated to P7,254,982.50 gross sales.

Elsewhere in the province, there are 62 such dairy cooperatives. Together, they had a total milk yield last year of 1,235,472.39 which at P54 per liter translated to a whopping P66,715,509.06 gross sale.

Added to that volume are the thousand more liters of milk harvested and sold by at least 10,000 farmers who own crossbred carabaos which is the product of the crossbreeding of their native carabaos with the dairy-type water buffalo.

Correa understood that the “white revolution” in the province is corollary to championing the province as the “National Impact Zone” for the carabao-based enterprise development. It is designed to change the frontiers in the practice of agriculture that he knows.

The movement recalls to mind the “Green Revolution”, which begun in Mexico in the 1940s and spread worldwide in the decades that followed. It changes the way agriculture was conducted in order to overcome mass starvation in some countries due to insufficient food supply.

In a way, the ‘White Revolution” in Nueva Ecija follows the path of the “Green Revolution”.

Grit and determination

It was not a “give-me” undertaking that Correa and the rest participated in. It involved education, struggle, commitment, and grit and determination which is not for the faint of heart.

“Kailangang bunuin ng husto para magtagumpay (It must be fully conquered in order to succeed),” Correa said.

He recalled sitting through for days in a seminar on carabao management. Then on the lectures and demonstrations on feeds and feedings, health care, de-worming, need for artificial insemination, taking care of the mother carabao and its calf, bathing the animal and cleaning the pen, proper milking and milk handling, and many more. Then, too, there was social preparation or the need to cope up with the expected changed life.

He also bound himself in an agreement of putting up a planting area for the napier grass and legumes needed, construction of appropriate corral, and “not to sell or slaughter the animal”, and return to the government a female offspring for every animal entrusted to him.

Then when the time came for milking animal.

“I and my wife, and sometimes my children when they are not readying for school, rise up at four in the morning to bathe the animal, sterilize the milk can and other milking paraphernalia,” Correa said. “And I need to squat and gently force the milk to flow from the animal’s teat ‘til it flows no more,” he added.

He said it must be a family work – of instilling the value of loving and dotting the animal – for it returns what you give, you bestow love and care for it, it gives more milk yield –  doing the assigned work no matter how difficult it is or how lowly it seems.

Sustaining the gains

Correa’s personal saga in joining the “White Revolution” doesn’t end there. He became chair of the 60-member Eastern Primary Multipurpose Cooperative (EMPC).

He led his coop in putting up a processing plant and an outlet. The coop now produces and sells milk-based products such as pastillas de leche, chocomilk, pasteurized milk, kesong puti, milk-o- gel, iced candy, ice cream, espasol de leche, yogurt, leche flan, and others.

The other cooperatives, too, have put up their own carabao’s milk-based enterprises. Like the Catalanacan Multi-purpose Cooperative in the Science City of Muñoz which also produces such products as sweet macapuno, macaroons, leche flan, bibingkang kanin, bibingkang gatas, pandan-flavoured bibingkang kanin, and  espasol de leche. And they are making money.

Nevertheless, viewed in the context of the huge amount used for importation of milk and milk-based products, which in 2017 were valued at P23 billion, this success in the “White Revolution” in the province needs to be fanned some more. Estimates have it said that for every glass of milk consumed or used in the country, three are sourced from importation and only one locally.

Thus there is need for concerted efforts – by the stakeholders, that include the public and private sectors, policies, adept planning for the pathways to pursue, implementation, and continuous monitoring and evaluation.

For one, it is suggested that a determined move by the government be undertaken to make the rising generation to be “milk drinkers” like those carried out by other foreign governments. In the long run, it will be for the health benefits of the young especially those suffering from malnutrition. It will also augur for a more robust dairy carabao enterprises in the country.

Sayang (what a pity) is the apt word if these gains shown in the “White Revolution” would be frittered away.