Sunday August 19, 2018

Domoguen: The Cordillera’s livestock industry and the quest for regional autonomy

ONE of the topics not fully covered during the discussion on the region’s quest for autonomy on air over Bombo Radyo today, June 10, 2018, pertains to the region’s livestock industry.

During the discussions, Mr. Jython Campana, the program’s main anchor asked about how autonomy would strengthen the region’s livestock industry.

To be honest, I did not have the specific details but the overall picture is quite clear in my mind. When it comes to livestock, I could hardly say we have an industry to speak of similar to those we find in the lowlands.

For instance, when we talk about the poultry industry, you can line up in this group several businesses producing the same products like eggs, processed meat, and live-chicken. You can say the same about hogs, cattle, and goats.

In the lowland regions where these commodities thrive as individual industries, the same commodity industries can also readily combine to comprise the livestock industry of a town, province, or the region as a whole.

We cannot say the same holds true for the Cordillera. While we are major consumers of livestock products, what we have at most are single backyard livelihoods. In Mountain Province, a majority of the families in a village use to grow a maximum of 3-4 pigs or at least grow pigs in a backyard pen. Besides food, pigs and small livestock are important to traditional rituals and observances. Today, things have changed as meat and livestock from the lowlands can readily be bought in the nearby market.

Livestock, particularly meat cattle in Benguet Province has dwindled with the expansion of vegetable farms. Baguio and Benguet are also largely dependent on meat imported from the lowlands.

Meanwhile, some meat products from other areas in the Cordillera like Alfonso Lista and Aguinaldo in Ifugao are consumed within, if not exported to the lowland markets. Under an autonomous set-up, can livestock raisers be empowered to grow sufficient meat and meat products, dairy products, poultry and egg products for local consumption with some extra to sell outside of the region?

The local climate of the region offers vast potentials for the locals to engage in the production of different livestock and breeds. For instance, the semi-temperate condition of the highlands is suited for dairy cows and small ruminants like goat and sheep. The rugged terrain and limited space for grazing provide a major challenge.

For poultry, the highlands and middle elevation areas provide benefits unlike in the lowlands where the temperature can be too hot and livestock may require some cooling. During the Cordillera livestock congress held last month in La Trinidad, Benguet, I have noted the Benguet State University have already developed technologies that offer varieties of options to overcome the cold weather and produce quality poultry products by would-be poultry raisers in the region.

The quest for autonomy in the Cordillera created the Cordillera Administrative Region. This temporary governance structure set in place a Department of Agriculture Regional Field Office (DA-CAR). Like all the other national regional field offices, the DA-CAR has a mandate under the Office of the President, to administer the affairs of government, accelerate economic and social growth, and develop and prepare the region and its people for the establishment of the autonomous region in the Cordillera (ARC), read Executive Order 220.

Precisely under this set-up, the DA-CAR has undertaken several investment projects and programs, that may not have been possible or done with better commitment and dedication in the previous set-up of governance under regions 1 and 2. I say this because now, we have our people who know the place and the people, and who visits the hinterlands regularly, (something not done prior to CAR), manning the DA-CAR and preparing project proposals, and later implementing the same.

Specifically for livestock, several initiatives were undertaken to revive native pig production, range chicken meat and egg production, goat and sheep production, cattle dairy and meat production, and, apiary and honey production. All over the region, the DA-CAR established multiplier farms in partnership with local government units (LGUs) and farmers associations for breeding and dispersal of livestock.

In about 30 years that the CAR set-up, was in place, the region has produced its own regional and national livestock “Gawad Saka” champions and encouraged the emergence of farmers and investors in livestock production in the region.

Aside from the academe, the evolution of the region’s livestock industry needs full guidance from research and development (R&D). It is hoped that the Duterte Administration’s initiative to develop the Baguio Dairy Farm (BDF) now Baguio Animal Breeding and Research Center (BABRC) into a cutting-edge research and training center for dairy and livestock in Northern Luzon will be fast-tracked.

Under an autonomous set-up, livestock raisers can yet be encouraged to take up the challenge of helping to conserve, take good care, and enhance local resources to sustain livestock livelihoods and develop a thriving industry fitted to the Cordillera.