(STAR) By Helen Flores - The Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) are expecting the first cloned water buffalo or carabao in Southeast Asia in the next two years.

Government scientists are speeding up the process of breeding carabaos through reproductive cloning to enhance the country’s self-sufficiency on meat, milk and dairy products.

The PCC was created in 1992 through Republic Act 7307, otherwise known as the Philippine Carabao Act, sponsored by then Senator Joseph Estrada and was sustained using his community development fund (CDF) or pork barrel. The center was inaugurated when he became president.

At his resthouse detention in Tanay, Rizal, the deposed President was elated to learn that his pet project has produced this piece of good news for Filipino farmers.

“That means our farmers are now being benefited by my bill and this boosts the ‘white revolution’ that produces more milk in our country so that we will not be importing milk anymore,” Estrada told The STAR.

Edwin Atabay, supervising science research specialist of the PCC, said the country is spending P26.1 billion a year for imported milk and dairy products.

He said the ongoing project of the PCARRD, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the PCC is aimed at developing a system for cloning through somatic cell nuclear transfer technology. “Super buffalo calves” will be produced as part of this genetic improvement program.

Protocols on cloning techniques and freezing buffalo female egg cells are expected to be established with about 1,300 buffalo clone embryos produced in vitro and transferred to recipient animals. A bank of somatic cells from identified super buffaloes will also be established for future cloning efforts.

Atabay said so far, 750 embryos have been produced.

Estrada recalled that his carabao bill was the object of jokes at the time, with Sen. John Osmeña saying that he (Estrada) was sponsoring the bill because of his “carabao English,” referring to the former movie actor’s often ungrammatical use of the language.

Estrada also pointed out that this law has benefited Filipino farmers with greater milk yield from their carabaos cross-bred with Indian bulls at the PCC.

Native carabaos produce only about one liter of milk per day, whereas a super buffalo can produce as much as 15 to 18 liters of milk a day, Atabay said.

The PCC is mandated to develop the Philippine carabao to increase milk and meat productivity in the country. It also aims to provide additional income and better nutrition to the farming communities.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada has filed a bill converting the PCC into the Philippine Livestock Research Institute (PLRI), seeking to expamd the pet project of his father.

The Senate Bill, a copy of which was obtained by The STAR, proposed the establishment of the PLRI to replace the PCC with an expanded mandate to cover research and development on cattle and small ruminants.

Since it started operating in 1993, the PCC based in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija has implemented various programs and activities on genetic conservation and improvement, social and enterprise development as well as research and development.

The PCC has been at the forefront of scientific breakthroughs, including a test-tube carabao and the very rare birthing of twin carabaos.

Under the younger Estrada’s proposed measure, the comprehensive development and promotion of the livestock industry calls for parallel effort for cattle and small ruminants such as goats and sheep.

Under the bill’s explanatory note, the proposed PLRI is being eyed as an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and shall undertake research activities in all disciplines that lead to the improvement of the overall productivity of the livestock industry.

Jinggoy’s bill defines livestock as any breed of domesticated cattle, carabao, goat and sheep raised for economic purposes.

Among the powers and functions of the envisioned PLRI are to conserve, promote and propagate large and small ruminants as a source of draft animal meat, milk and hide; undertake R & D, undertake training programs for farmers, make available high-quality germplasm and tap local and foreign funding.

A PLRI Board will be created composed of the secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) as chairman, the DA undersecretary for livestock as co-chairman, and the directors of the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), PCARRD and the Institute of Animal and Dairy Sciences (IADS) of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB) among its members.

Among the priority projects proposed for the PLRI are gene pools and gene banks, R & D on breeding and genetics, herd improvement, feeds and feeding, reproduction, biotechnology, animal health, forage and pasture; and setting up of a center for biotechnology for livestock improvement.

A P300-million livestock development fund has been proposed under the younger Estrada’s measure. – With reports from Marichu Villanueva, Manny Galvez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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