Dairy Biotechnology Strategy
When it comes to winning a war, there is one person Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) Executive Director Libertado C. Cruz, himself a true winner, looks up to as model.
That is South Korea’s Park Chung-hee, who led Korea to an export-oriented industrialization from 1961 to 1979.
“If there’s one big supporter of science, it was General Park. Many years back, he said ‘There are only four areas Korea should focus on—heavy industry, light industry, chemical industry, and electronics. From thereon they developed their scientists, established training centers, and tailor-fitted their universities in these four areas, said Cruz.
“He planned like an army general, and to the smallest detail, formulated a scheme how to win the war.”
In the Philippines, the war is really against poverty. And Cruz put it in his plan to win it in a different way—that is in leading PCC toward high-end technology.
Science pioneer as Park is, Cruz has been leading PCC into a different game on reproductive biotechnology.
First, PCC has intensively spread the use of artificial insemination (AI). Since the native carabao is known as a good draft animal but not as producer of milk, there was a need to cross the native carabao with high milk-producing animals, like the Murrah breed of India.
Semen used in AI comes from superior bulls of the dairy breed. When mated with the native animals, 50:50 crossbreds are produced, exhibiting growth twofold more than the native and milk production 3-4 times more than the native parents.
PCC has reached an average of 20,000 AI services, according to PCC AI Chief Aurelio Abesamis Jr.
For the past two years, PCC has initiated on expanding AI services by way of training private village-based AI technicians (VBAITs). This is because the existing AI technicians are mostly with the local government units (LGUs). Their numbers cannot be increased since LGUs cannot have additional plantilla positions. This is mainly the reason why the number of AI services in the country has not reached above six percent of all breedable animals.
The idea in the training of VBAITs is the technicians themselves earn on their own as entrepreneurs. This way, government no longer has to spend for employing the technicians. The skilled ones themselves find their way in making a profit in this business.
“To me, it’s a beautiful approach because government doesn’t have to give them salary, no traveling expense. They’re paid by the farmers for their service. Our investment is in training them,” he said.
PCC provides the technicians with the needed AI guns, liquid nitrogen (LN2) tanks and frozen semen. In addition, the VBAITs are supported with supply of LN2 for two years until they are fully established.
It targets 2,000 trained VBAITs by 2010.
With the VBAIT project, PCC now concentrates on training AI technicians instead of doing actual AI itself. It will further focus on Mindanao, which has big potential for dairy carabao expansion, with a targeted AI service of 10,000 per year. It will do this in collaboration with private technicians and technicians too of local government units.
Using AI for wide-scale upgrading is the more logical approach. However, to produce animals with blood composition of at least 87.5% dairy breed, it will take three generations of backcrossing. The first generation results in 50:50, second generation backcross 75:25 and third generation backcross is 87.5:12.5. Each generation requires five years, so essentially, it will require at least 15 years to produce animals with production ability closer to the purebred.
This is why other reproductive techniques came into the picture, including the use of embryo transfer. All these technologies (AI and embryo transfer), however, complement rather than compete with each other.
“We’re practically more on the development of the technology,” Cruz said.
Feeding system is another important research and development (R&D) effort.
`”If there’s any single intervention that can bring substantial improvement in smallholders’ animal productivity, it’s improvement in feeding system. Nutrient deficiencies are very common among smallholder farmers, said Cruz.
“One simple and practical approach is to develop least-cost supplement like the urea molasses mineral blocks (UMMB).”
Mineral nutrition is less appreciated and less understood by dairy producers. This is very common as dairy milk production depletes minerals from the animals if not properly given mineral supplementation. This, in turn, affects milk production itself, and more importantly, depresses reproduction. Mineral supplementation, after meeting energy and protein, will bring significant improvement in the overall performance of dairy animals.
As PCC has been appointed lead agency for biotechnology R&D for livestock, it will also cover other animal species, such as cattle and goat. It has started establishing a cryobank with samples of tissue, embryo and semen of all animals.
“It’s a common facility in countries that recognize the importance of indigenous genetic materials,” Cruz pointed out.
PCC has also started R&D on DNA-based traceability as this would enable the country to tap export markets.
“Our livestock industry will generate more benefit when we go to the export market. But when we talk about the export market, they will talk about traceability.”
Another vital area where biotechnology finds meaning is on the screening of genetic defects among commercially important animals. This is very important as the Philippines relies largely on imported genetics. Screening for genetic defects for all imported materials, to include semen, embryos and ever live animals, would save the livestock industry tremendous wastage since this can prevent entry of less desirable animal germplasm.
The country’s capability on screening for genetic defects will prevent importation of unwanted animals, such as what happened when the country brought in numerous goats from the US that were infected with caprine arthritis-encephalitis syndrome (CAE). CAE is a goat disease causing chronic arthritis and leukoencephalomyelitis manifested by paralysis in goat parts.
The country never had this goat disease before, but it has already spread nationwide. Without the ability to test diseases, the Filipino consumer will always be at the threat of disease infection.
To enhance its strength in biotechnology, PCC is training its people.
“Human capacitation is basic,” he said.
PCC is collaborating with foreign institutions, like Korea’s Institute of Animal Sciences-RDA, Taiwan Livestock Research Institute and the National Livestock Breeding Center of Japan for technical capacitation.
“If you have capable people, they themselves can generate fund. They themselves can generate technology. But fund itself cannot generate technology. The government has to make a serious effort on how to get intelligent, young people to go into science.
“Knowledge generation is more expensive, but more exciting. When young people understand the technology, they get so excited.” he said.
PCC is also into collaboration with the Bureau of Agriculture Research (BAR) and the Philippine Council on Agriculture, Forestry Natural Resources Research and Development (PICARRD) which provide funding for its R & D.
Generating funding support to strengthen institutional capacitation is critical.
“The first thing is to know the direction. The second is selling the idea. I tell our people it’s better to work hard because we have the money than do nothing because you don’t have money.”
Cruz recalled that a high-powered technical team from Sweden once visited the country to analyze how to develop the dairy industry. This group said that the Philippines does not need any new legislation.
“What we need is seriousness and we need to ‘walk the talk’, they said,” said Cruz.
PCC though takes the battle to a higher level. Rather than focusing on just changing the policies, PCC is taking a proactive approach, creating a niche in fresh milk production.
“The best fight is to become more efficient. Produce efficiently, increase profitability. When you raise profitability, farmers will get into this business. In creating an efficient domestic fresh carabao milk production, no country is able to compete with us, and so, we have a niche market.”
Fresh milk production by farmers is also a significant hedge of poor farmers against the international financial crisis. They may not be exporting, but they’re generating income for themselves and are giving good value for money for their neighbors who no longer have to buy lower-quality imported milk.