Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beast of Burden and Beauty

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization mentioned that that in the year 2000, the domestic water buffalo estimates to 158 million in the world, and 97% of it were in Asia, specifically, in various part of Southeast Asia; Guam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Descended from the wild water buffalo now an endangered species, the domestic water buffalo, locally known in the Philippines as carabao or kalabaw is the product of thousands of years of selective breeding in Southeast Asia. The water buffalo genus includes water buffalo, tamaraw and anoas.

Water buffaloes are of the river type and the swamp type. The Philippine carabao is of swamp type, cooling itself by lying in a waterhole or mud during the heat of the day.

Slow and restful, the Carabaos have been domesticated in the Philippines since the pre-Hispanic times. The so-called "beasts of burdens," are put to continuous work from the age of four years till it reaches 15 years or beyond to help farmers plow the fields and with loads of several tons, transport them and their produce to the market.

Despite the proliferation hand tractors, carabaos are still the farmer’s work animal. And because of that, it has been, for many years, our country’s national symbol.

According to research, carabaos are dwindling in number and are already vanishing. The Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) noted that carabao population in the country has steadily dropped since 1988. Statistics collected showed that in 1988 there were 2.95 million carabaos in the country. However in 1992, it dwindled to 2.48 million and the trend is continuing even today.

But the holding of various carabao-related activities such as parades and races does not only promote its significance as a national animal, but also help in their preservation. It also recognizes its socio-economic importance and considered part of our country's national heritage and treasure.

And to revive local traditions and old practices in agricultural communities, farmers pay tribute to carabaos for they are very important to them and their local economy. The towns of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, Pulilan, Bulacan and Angono, Rizal have farmers guiding their carabaos to the church square to be part of the procession. They do not only kneel for blessings but like penitents, the carabaos also walk on their knees in front of the church and are individually blessed by a priest as they pass by to pay homage to their patron saint.

Amid the scorching heat of the sun, most often in unplanted farmland, villagers and tourists gather to watch locally-bred carabaos race. In the towns of Sto Domingo in Ilocos Sur, Vigan, Pavia and Passi City in Iloilo, carabaos take the center stage through grand spectacle although they are not particularly noted for their speed. Each carabaos are attached with a bamboo carriage and race across the fields reaching finish line. Prior to the event, they are trained daily.

Carabaos are also exhibited as an artwork. Farmers clean their carabaos' skin until it is smooth and polished. The horns are smeared with oil and given gloss. Then, they are sometimes groomed and dressed or artistically painted, decorated with ribbons sometimes, painted and attached to carts and parade them through the town. Prizes are awarded to the most gaily-decorated and beautifully-painted carabaos. This does not only draw participants closer to farmers’ best friend but also lures tourists.

In March 27, 1992, the Philippine Carabao Act or Republic Act 7307 was signed into law by former President Corazon Aquino, speaker Ramon Mitra and senate president Neptali Gonzalez. Authored by then Sen. Joseph Estrada, the law led to the creation of the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) and became an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture. PCC was tasked to make better the farmers’ income and general well-being. The agency was also commissioned to enhance carabao’s potentials as a source of draft power, meat, milk and hide. Research says that carabaos provide more than 5% of the world’s milk supply. The “caracow,” a crossbreed carabao and cow, with nursing calf can produce 300 to 380 kilograms of milk during a lactation period of about 180 days. It is said that a carabao’s milk is more nutritious than cattle and goat milk. The caracow’s milk contains five percent protein while only 3.5 percent protein is in cow and goat’s milk (Laguna-based Dairy Training and Research Institute).

The following year, on May 14, 1993, former President Fidel Ramos also launched the National Carabao Development Program to upgrade the local carabao breed for milk and meat production. Scientists and researchers have been conducting series of researches to hasten the reproduction of high-breed carabaos.

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