EARLIER last month – on September 20, 2019 (Friday) -- Agriculture Secretary Dr. William Dar (PhD) came up to Baguio City and Benguet to grace the 103rd founding anniversary of the Benguet State University (BSU) where he had studied, taught, and later served as college vice president.

His delegation then motored to the Baguio dairy farm – now the Baguio animal breeding and research center (BABRC) – under the Department of Agriculture (DA).

There to welcome him with a sumptuous dinner of native Cordillera cuisine were agriculture staff & officers led by regional director Cameron Odsey of the DA in the Cordillera Administrative Region (DA-CAR).

With agriculture chief “Manong Willie” were undersecretary for consumer affairs Ernesto Gonzales, Assistant Secretary for Agribusiness Kristine Evangelista, and A/Sec for communications and media affairs Noel Reyes.

In various Philippine languages and dialects, “Manong” means “older brother” – and that is Manong Willie to his fellow workers in and out of government.

[In decades past when I was starting out as a journalist with the Baguio City bureau of the Philippines News Agency (PNA), I had regularly covered the Mountain State Agricultural College (MSAC) when Dr. Fortunato Battad (PhD) was the college president, and Dr. William Dar (PhD) was the college vice president. MSAC is now the 103-year-old BSU (Benguet State University); and “Manong Willie” is now the Philippines’ agriculture chief.]

In his dinner talk with DA-CAR and the BSU delegation that joined his group at the Baguio dairy farm (now BABRC), Manong Willie urged to nurture and support agriculture industrialization – including digital agriculture – in the countryside.

The 45th Secretary of Agriculture of the Philippines shared his dream of developing “even half” of the 94-hectare Baguio Animal Breeding and Research Center (BABRC) into a state-of-the-art Agri-Industrial Hub.

Secretary Dar suggested to “bring locators from industries that you have to have in the Cordilleras.”

The agri-industrial hub shall be a center of research and development – aside from the “basic breeding” of animals that the Baguio dairy farm is known for.

The BBARC currently has 100 cows from Australia for dairy training under the BABRC Development Plan 2019-2024 that includes the following: Dairy project and animal breeding; on-station research and techno-demo; training center and technology commercialization hub; agro-tourism; and integrated laboratory.

The BABRC Dairy Project & Animal Breeding’s existing efforts include large ruminant (cattle), native swine, small ruminant (sheep), and native chicken breeding/production and dispersal. “new thinking efforts” include: dispersal programs for dairy animals, forage sufficiency efforts, dairy trainings to include youth & other clients, AI plant; intensify native animal production, conservation of native breeds; increased sheep production in the Cordillera for dispersal; and production of native chicken (lesser production cost, market potential, tied to culture).

The on-station researches and techno-demo consists of feed formulation trials; anthurium and herbs collection; rabbit and vermi-integration; techno demo on edible landscaping; and techno demo on urban gardening.

On the other hand, the training center and technology commercialization hub includes dairy training; apiary; mushroom; vermiculture; and general academic OJT (on-the-job training) for Senior High students. There will be Farmer’s training center, products display center, techno demo & animal show facility, knowledge center (especially on indigenous agricultural tools and practices), product development facility, and a regional research and extension network (RRDEN) as cradle of technologies to be linked.

As to the planned Agro-Tourism project, Secretary Dar cautioned the DA-CAR against “unnecessarily exposing the breeding stocks” – pointing out the “potential for visitors to bring in diseases.”

He instead advised to “replicate on a smaller scale – not opening the whole (area to tourists)...”

Secretary Dar also promoted “digital agriculture” – and enthused: “Being on top of the city (of Baguio) gives us (DA-CAR BABRC) the opportunity to become an innovation center.”