How Magsaysay Jr. and friends bring fresh milk to Filipinos–and make a difference
Nine years ago, a group of retired businessmen who had made their names in different fields embarked on a bold adventure—dairy farming, which none of them knew anything about.
Advertising man Rey Anthony G. David Jr. said he simply followed where “Moses” led them.
Moses is former senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr., namesake and only son of the beloved Philippine president.
As a public servant and private citizen, Magsaysay Jr. had pursued the advancement of Philippine agriculture an important personal advocacy.
His group, which includes Danilo Katigbak Dimayuga of Lipa City, Ralph Casino of Iligan City, Felipe Bince of Pangasinan, Jose Eduardo Arroyo of Pampanga and Sofronio Larcia, set up the Real Fresh Dairy Farms Inc. (RFDFI) in Bay, Laguna, close to the University of the Philippines in Los Baños— where they “borrowed” dairy production experts and technology.
With the brand name Holly’s (after the Holstein-Sahiwal milking cows it imported from New Zealand), RFDFI now has increasingly diversified product offerings—fresh milk, milk chocolate drink, kesong puti, butter, cream, mozzarella and yogurt.
The Dutch cheese gouda is a seasonal product.
The dairy production also spawned a more high-profile venture, the award-winning Carmen’s Best Ice Cream—run by Magsaysay Jr.’s son, Francisco or Paco—which has been favorably compared to top international brands.
This October, RFDFI is set to expand its roster of products with the addition of half-and-half (equal parts whole milk and light cream averaging 10-12 percent fat, which is more than milk but less than light cream) and caffe latte (milk coffee).
Although Holly’s is gaining market share with a greater presence in major supermarket chains, its founders believe that profit comes second only to being able to promote a shared advocacy and to help people.
Dimayuga, RFDFI president, said that since few people were venturing into the dairy business, his group strove to encourage and help farmers by introducing them to new technology to increase production and lessen the country’s reliance on imports.
RFDFI was also more of a social “experiment,” an attempt to help lower the cost of milk and to show that even modest enterprises can afford to pay workers the right wages and give them all the benefits they were entitled to.
The company decided to get small farmers to start modest dairy production ventures with one or two milking cows.
Magsaysay said RFDFI was an “initiative for health and food security.” He pointed out that only one percent of the country’s dairy consumption came from local sources. He likewise wanted Filipinos, especially the young, to develop the habit of drinking milk which, he said, helped him survive childhood illnesses.
If the RFDFI “founding fathers” knew little about dairy production when they started, the people they hired were equally clueless. To help improve the lives of residents of its host community, the company hired mostly locals to whom dairy production was a complete unknown.
Milkers Rowena Casipe, a former factory worker, and Recie Reyes, who dropped out of a Food Technology course, both initially feared they would be injured by the cows. But now, work has become routine for them. What they like most about working at RFDFI, they said is its proximity to their homes. They just walk to the farm.
Teodoro M. Lacdan, who used to work in the Magsaysay household, was at first unsure about how he would fare in a rural setting. “It was like getting a job abroad,” he said. Knowing nothing about cows, Lacdan, who prepared the feed, also worried about being kicked by the animals.
His apprehensions turned out to be unfounded.
Edgardo Egar was a resort caretaker, while Serafin del Perio farmed a rented small piece of land. Like Lacdan, they have tried different jobs on the farm, and are foragers. They said the work is not too hard, and because they live close to the farm, they do not have to spend on transportation. Del Perio added the schedule also allows him to continue tending his farm.
Oliver Costa, operations manager, said employees from neighboring communities were hired for technical work. The job rotation, he added, kept employees from being bored.
Jake Borja, a UPLB graduate who interned on the farm and is now its operations supervisor, said a major advantage of RFDFI over some local dairy farms is its adherence to quality. All the employees stressed that cleanliness is a cardinal rule on the farm.
Borja said partner dairy cooperatives, which supplemented RFDFI’s production to meet its requirements, must meet the same high standards as well. Milk that does not meet the criteria is rejected. But he said RFDFI helps the partners improve their processes to improve the quality of their milk.
The farm has now become a favorite on-the-job training ground for dairy production students in some universities.
And with the kind of training RFDFI employees get, Magsaysay Jr.’s other goal may just be achieved.
“We would like our own workers to start their own farms, using the technology and management skills they learn from RFDFI, for their own ventures,” Magsaysay said.
The individual farmers could then partner with their former employer in a cooperative or a consortium or whatever arrangement would be most practical and profitable for everyone, in support of the ultimate goal—to make milk more affordable to Filipinos. –CONTRIBUTED
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