The bucolic Mr Universe
PANAMA. Julio Abrego, the new director of Panama’s Farming Research Institute (IDIAP), likes to walk around in manure. “I am one of yo...
PANAMA. Julio Abrego, the new director of Panama’s Farming Research Institute (IDIAP), likes to walk around in manure. “I am one of you,” he said, pointing down at the crowd of beef farmers gathered at Bugaba’s twice weekly cattle auction. “I’m more used to being down their in the excrement than up here speaking in a microphone. ”
His remarks made at IDIAP’s 34th birthday celebration were met with quiet applause, but the excitement went up a degree or two when the breeding bulls arrived and the auction commenced.
It was Mr Universe all over again. Gleaming like polished wood, solid as rock, the animals were paraded before us and their vital statistics pointed out. Weight: 1:100 lbs, shoulder height: 135 cm, circumference of testicles: 35.5 cm (it seems that in bulls size does make a difference).
It was not surprising that these animals generated so much interest. This IDIAP birthday auction was a rare opportunity for small scale farmers to pay rock bottom prices for superior, cross-bred stock – each with its own unique attributes – this one resists heat, that one produces good milk cows, all of them father smaller than average calves that rapidly put on weight after birth, making for easy deliveries and faster profits.
IDIAP in one of Panama’s lesser known bureaucracies but in its own unassuming way it was been making a difference in agriculture for many years. Remember Spinky the beetle that wiped out Panama’s rice crop a couple of years ago? It was IDIAP who helped find the biological solution? Remember when the tomato crop failed? It was IDIAP who came up with a strain that quadrupled production and was fungus-resistant.
Have you read about the naturally-selected, bio-fortified grains that contain extra iron, protein and zinc?
It is IDIAP that is promoting their use among more humble peasant farmers so that they can grow their own crop and improve their nutritional intake without having to pay for costly vitamin supplements.
Julio Abrego is eager to raise IDIAP’s profile. ” We are well known internationally,” he said. “But here in Panama no-one knows what we do.”
He wants to reorient IDIAP’s focus so that research projects respond more directly to the needs of producers. “We have to involve the producers,” said Abrego. “We are holding consultations with farmers and we are going to make sure that what we find out gets put into practice. Otherwise our innovations are in vain.”
Already farmers in Boquete have asked for IDIAP’s help in finding a biological control for the beetle that is causing havoc in their coffee plantations.
IDIAP is also trying to meet the needs of the tomato industry by working to produce strains of tomato that have more flesh and less water.
And with prices of grains forever on the increase, there are investigations underway to see if costs can be kept down and nutritional levels maintained by feeding cattle the residual by-products of the brewing industry.
With a budget of just under $3 million, Abrego knows there are limits to what he can do.
But with the government pushing them to come up with new ways to reduce the cost of the canasta basica(foofd basket) and to improve nutrition and standard of living of campesino farmers, Abrego is nonetheless optimistic about IDIAP’s future.
“We need to make changes, we need to get better known,” he said. “Yes, it is a challenge but I am very excited.”
IDIAP is not just for Panamanians. Many of their personnel have trained and worked overseas and are fluent in English.
Expat farmers new to the bucolic life can find a wealth of published information and enthusiastic scientists who seem genuinely interested in making your new venture work.
IDIAP can advise which plants and animals are most suitable for different climatic conditions, and suggest ways to improve animal nutrition or mitigate the effects of global warming.
IDIAP has branches throughout Panama, with main offices in Chiriquí, Divisa, Los Santos, Rio Hato, Chepo and Bocas del Toro.
For more information, contact IIDIAP at 500-0519.