Milking profit from carabaos

Milking profit from carabaos

By Rita Festin
Philippine Daily Inquirer
06/06/2009

TALAVERA, Nueva Ecija – This town in Nueva Ecija is known for its fresh carabao’s milk and low-fat pastillas de leche. And to the health-conscious, these are welcome alternatives.

Joyce Ramones of the provincial agrarian reform office regularly drinks carabao milk herself and shows off her svelte figure and youthful looks that belie her age of 46.

“I am living proof of this,” she told visitors. “I not only stay fit and slim, I also have no hypertension because of low levels of cholesterol from carabao milk.”

At the center of the dairy activity here is the Nueva Ecija Federation of Dairy Carabao Cooperative (Nefedcco), which produces the most carabao milk in the province from among its 27 farmer-cooperatives and five associate member-cooperatives.

It started with only nine member-cooperatives in 2002. Back then, the need to form an umbrella federation became apparent since milk is highly perishable, and the cooperatives needed to compete as a group for better pricing and quality control.

Today, the federation procures 1,000 to 1,200 liters of milk daily, just enough for their small-scale operations. It is far short though of the 5,000 liters/day requirement of a major ice cream maker that approached the group with an exclusive supply contract.

Out of its daily procured volume, most of it, or 650 liters, is sold as raw milk, and the rest is processed into pasteurized milk, chocolate milk, lacto juice, pastillas plain and yema, white cheeses and pastillas de leche. Orders for ice cream and cheese pimiento are also accepted.

Nefedcco collects the raw carabao’s milk produced by its members and processes and markets the product to major food and pasalubong outlets in Bulacan, Angeles City, Olongapo City, Cabanatuan City, Baguio City and Metro Manila.

From its ragtag operations using plastic pails and containers, Nefedcco has metamorphosed into a modern, more sanitary and professionally run enterprise that uses stainless steel milk containers for collection and storage.

Almost 700 Novo Ecijano farmers with over 800 animals supply it with milk, and the activity has increased their farming income by at least four-fold.

Andy Vallarte, 64, is the federation’s vice chairman and has two carabaos that he milks every day, 10 to 11 months in a year. Out of the 10 to 11 liters a day that he collects, he earns a net of P29 per liter or up to P80,000 a month. He can only earn P40,000 maximum per hectare from palay twice a year, and only break even during a typhoon.

“Walang lugi sa gatas. Kahit may bagyo, tuloy ang paggagatas [I don’t have any losses in dairy farming. Even if there is a typhoon, I can still milk my carabao]” he said.

He no longer incurs debt at high interest rates just to get by, unlike before when his only source of income was farming. Today, if he needs to borrow money for an emergency, he knows that he will be able to pay it back right away with his income from carabao milk.

Various government agencies, both at the provincial and national levels, have been supporting Nefedcco. About half a million pesos worth of milking equipment and capability training (i.e., milk collection, milk quality control and beef management) were provided under the Asian Development Bank’s Agrarian Reform Communities Project (ADB ARCP) implemented by the Department of Agrarian Reform.

Under ADB ARCP, nearly 30,000 rural households, or 140 agrarian reform communities (ARCs) in almost 1,000 poverty-stricken communities nationwide came to benefit. Of a total project cost of $168.9 million, ADB provided $93.2 million loan in 1998.

To qualify for ARCP, farmers must be organized into ARCs. Most already own land but lack basic infrastructure and support services to maximize earnings. The project provides them with roads, bridges, communal irrigation, drinking water supply or other infrastructure.

For Nefedcco, the ADB ARCP provided equipment and six farm-to-market road networks in Talavera that improved farmers’ access to markets and reduced transportation and hauling costs. The concrete road leading to the coop’s milk collection and processing/marketing center in Barangay San Ricardo in Unlad Buhay ARC is, in fact, provided by ADB ARCP and is conveniently just 6 kilometers away from the town proper.

With the success of ARCP, which was completed in 2007, the ADB approved a second phase late last year. It is a follow-on ARCP project focusing on the Southern Philippines where three quarters of the rural poor live. ARCP II would assist 152 ARCs, covering 731 barangay (village) units in 137 municipalities of 18 provinces in six regions. Beneficiaries are expected to increase to about 215,000 rural community members with the inclusion of three provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Nueva Ecija has been long known as the “Rice Bowl of the Philippines,” being the country’s largest rice producer. With its increasing production of carabao milk, it may soon be also known as “Dairy Capital of the Philippines.”

And with milk and dairy products eating up a fourth of the Philippines’ total agricultural imports, the potential of carabao milk farming can indeed be very lucrative and promising.

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