Thursday, December 15, 2005

The milkman of Talavera

Guyito, the Inquirer’s carabao mascot, would be happy to know that his fellow ruminants have transformed the town of Talavera in Nueva Ecija into a land flowing with milk and milk products. Thanks to the dream and the daring of entrepreneur Danilo V. Fausto, carabao’s milk is now making a healthy comeback and finding a niche in the market.

Another thing to moo about is fresh cow’s milk produced by small farmers’ cooperatives also finding its way into café society and boldly competing with imported milk that isn’t fresh at all.

Fausto’s ``Dare to Dream: A Filipino Entrepreneur’s Tale of Success in Dairy Farming’’ was launched last Monday at UP’s Balay Kalinaw with believers in the Philippine dairy industry in attendance. It was a small but happy affair. National Dairy Authority chief Salvacion Bulatao gave a national situationer while a nervous little farmer named Ka Henry whom Fausto brought along almost stole the thunder and received a standing ovation with his carabao success tale. But that is getting ahead of the story. People went home smiling and sporting white moustaches.

You might have seen in some malls the dainty DVF Dairy Farm’s ``Gatas ng Kalabaw’’ stalls that sell chilled fresh carabao’s milk in sealed bottles, plain or fruit- and pandan-flavored, as well as pastillas de leche and kesong puti. The promdi in you takes a second look and you wonder if this is for real. Carabao’s milk braving the mainstream?

That is exactly how Fausto’s tale of success has gone so far. Fausto, a UP graduate who used to be in banking and finance is now the president and CEO of DVF Dairy Farm, Inc. He narrates how it all all began:

``At the beginning, I was the laughing stock of farmers in Barangay Sampaloc and nearby barangays…They thought I was crazy, throwing away money when I bought 10 carabaos. As a businessman based in Manila, raising carabaos was alien to me. But I thought that given enough time and technical help from knowledgeable persons, I would be able to pull it off.

``When I bought my first carabao stocks, rice harvest was one and a half months away. There was no available forage so the carabaos’ health deteriorated. The joke then was that my carabaos had piano ribs because they were so thin. After the rice harvest, rice straw became abundant. This gave me the opportunity to stock rice straw in traditional silos or mandala.’’

In no time, people stopped laughing and farmers started asking if they could take care of some carabaos (Indian murrah) and participate in the venture. Things began to happen. Milking carabaos multiplied.

In 1992, the Talavera Dairy Cooperative Inc. was set up and thus began the farmers’ organized venture into dairy farming. It helped a lot that the Philippine Carabao Center in Munoz was just nearby. (That’s the home of the first test tube carabao and where Erap made his now famous ``tubeless carabao’’ quip.)

Fausto figured that ``with improved management, caracow breed and proper nutrition, carabaos can provide farmers with adequate income through milk production.’’ He based this on the estimates of Central Luzon State University technicians. A farmer with three to four caracows could get 20 liters a day with one liter selling at P30. This means an added monthly income of P18,000 or P216,000 on a good year.

Such was the experience of Ka Henry, the farmer with the carabao tale mentioned earlier, who received two heads from the PCC dispersal program. In four years Ka Henry was the owner of six carabaos. He was able to return the initial two heads, pay his debts, renovate his home, buy a tricycle and send a daughter to college. Today his carabaos’ milk earns him an added P21,000 to P31,500 a month.

``I have always believed that in order for one to succeed in business, one has to get out of the box,’’ says Fausto. ``I told members of the cooperative that from the time they were born, they were already poor. Even their forefathers were poor farmers. So there was nothing wrong if we tried something different to increase the productivity of the soil and in so doing increase their income. We could improve the soil’s productivity even without the use of modern technology by simply changing the product. So I convinced our members to plant Napier grass instead of rice.’’ Napier grass is used as carabao feed.

Fausto’s draws the main bulk of DVF’s dairy requirement from the farmers’ dairy cooperatives. Cow’s milk is now also being produced in large quantities. There are a variety of needs to meet and plan for—feeding programs for the poor, fresh milk for the table and coffee clubs as well as the demand for gourmet cheeses. Home delivery has started.

Fausto has even developed a scheme for absentee overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who might want to go into ``passive investment’’ by partnering with farmers.

In his foreword, economist Dr. Sixto K. Roxas has glowing words for Fausto’s groundbreaking work. ``This is an inspiring tale of a venture undertaken for both profit and social purpose by a person who might well be… the archetype of a true development entrepreneur. Beyond merely undertaking a business, an entrepreneur is an innovator whose venture energizes a process of change and development in a nation’s economy. He is the agent of change whose creative vision, skillful promotion, and bold risk-taking transforms the whole production cycle in society, generating for the people new income streams and higher living standards.’’

Inspired and interested? Contact DVF Dairy Farm Inc. at 4157881 or