More local milk for Filipinos

- Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

Not too many of us know it but dairy is our second largest agri import in the country today, and local demand continues to increase. Per recent NSO survey, dairy expenditures of Filipinos reached over P71 billion, and the country’s average volume of import of dairy products is around 300 million kilos/year, or $700,000.00, the bulk of which is in milk powder.

The ready-to-drink milk market which is mostly composed of UHT (ultra high temperature processed milk) is not even a significant part of this import volume. The liquid milk volume is 47 million liters, 29 million of which is imported and 18 million liters are locally produced. This is already a big increase for the local dairy industry because previously, the ratio stood at 1 out of 4 glasses; it now stands at 2 out of 5 glasses, or an improvement of about 40 percent.

The National Dairy Authority (NDA) is not as familiar to the average Filipino as the more high-profile (read: political) agencies, but it is worth a second look, if only to appreciate their quiet effort in moving the industry forward. Even the government has seemingly relegated it to the background for some time, appropriating for it a measly P50 million annual budget that has not moved for 15 years, until last year when it was jacked up to P170 million (still measly compared to most other agencies). Apparently, someone in the budget department saw enough reasons to re-invigorate the oft-forgotten dairy body, and last year, the budget grew to P262 million.

No one is happier about the turn of events than NDA administrator Ms. Grace Cenas who says they can do wonders with a richer coffer.  They can beef up their Dairy Multiplier Farm (DMF) project which is similar to the regular breeding farms, except that the DMF is expected to have better reproducing and milking capacity. The way the system goes is the NDA distributes the dairy animals to the DMFs.  The resultant offspring will then be used to repay the NDA (in eight years), and these offspring will then be distributed to small-hold farmers. The DMFs are supposed to showcase the best practices in the dairy industry, so the small-hold farmers will surely benefit from the new technology which spells faster reproduction and increased milk production.

Our dairy industry is slowly growing, though we are still a long way from being competitive. In 2010 – 2011, the industry posted a growth, which is measured in both increase in dairy animals and increase in milk production, of four percent. In 2011-2012, the increase jumped to 12 percent, clearly benefitting from the increase in budget. Increasing the number of dairy animals on the ground is of course the agency’s primary task, but improving the breed is also a priority. Though NDA continues to import the animals, the cross-breeding and up-breeding programs have been intensified using artificial insemination until they have reached the full-fledged level. In the course of this, they are mindful of our tropical weather’s effects on the new breed to ensure an effective propagation of the cross-breed.

They also have this Buy Back Fund which has now been fortified by the new budget where the National Dairy Authority buys back the upgraded or cross-bred animals produced locally by our farmers. They certainly don’t want these upgraded animals to find their way into the slaughter houses, more especially the female cows which can be still be very productive in terms of milk production and propagation. When the small-hold farmers need money, the first thing they think of is selling off these animals which can easily fetch easy money for them in times of need. The NDA now has the funds to buy back these animals to prevent the female dairy animals from landing on the dining table— the males, though, may contribute to our meat supply. The bought-back animals will be re-distributed to interested parties who may want to be a part of the dairy system.

From last count, we have about 10 million dairy animals on the ground, and these include cows, carabaos and goats. The insemination program of NDA continues to intensify and they relentlessly identify possible “surrogate mothers”, working with our local beef cattle farmers to inseminate these “mother cows” in areas where the population of beef cattle is high. They continuously train animal inseminator technicians and work together with the Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Carabao Center on the so-called Unified Artificial Insemination Program spearheaded by the Bureau of Animal Industry.

So, are we well on our way to becoming self-sufficient in our dairy needs? The answer is still no, but the NDA is working on it. For now, they are realizing some progress in their goal of providing extra income to our dairy farmers, increasing the livestock in the countryside, presenting alternative livelihood for our rural folks, and maybe even providing the springboard for other rural industries to evolve. Some enterprising folks have made a modest business of milk delivery to milk processing plants using multicabs. Others have gone into micro financing to lend capital to small farmers.

There is a big Dairy Congress coming up which the Dairy Confederation of the Philippines is cooking up. This DairyCon is the umbrella organization of all dairy stakeholders in the country and they are open as well to primary dairy cooperatives where the individual farmers are members. These primary cooperatives which are usually clustered in provinces, have their own milk collection center managed by the cooperative, where the individual members bring their milk for testing and weighing. The good milk is pooled by the coop and brought to a milk processing plant which is managed by the confederation and is then marketed.

It is here in the Dairy Congress that all stakeholders congregate to share their accomplishments, concerns, best practices, etc., and participate in the expo where the latest equipment, technology, ingredients and supplies are showcased.

Kudos to the National Dairy Authority for keeping the fire burning.  By providing the rural folks with alternative livelihood, these folks do not see the need to migrate to the urban centers where they have less chances of a decent life.    

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

For comments: (email) businessleisure-star@stv.com.ph

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