There was a time when Filipinos would need to wait for the year’s mangoes to come around – usually during the months of summer, particularly around May. And once the harvest season is over, these beloved fruits would disappear from sights and people have to wait the following year for the next season. In some cases, people have to wait even longer because there are times when it would not fruit even in regular season.
But now, we get to enjoy these mangoes all year round thanks to the plant scientist who discovered a way on how to make these mango trees bear fruits three times a year. These days, we get to savor its delectable meat in our favorite mango float, mango pudding, mango pizza, and many other treats thanks to the National Scientist Ramon Barba – who passed away last week after dedicating all his life in bettering our plant industries.
Ramon Barba: The Filipino Scientist Who Allowed Us to Enjoy Mangoes All Year Round
Growing up among fruit trees in a small farm, Barba took great interest in the study of plants. No wonder, he took Agriculture at the UP Los Baños in 1950s, majoring in agronomy and fruit production.
Young as he was, Barba has always been curious on the possibility of making mangoes available all throughout the year. Traditionally, mango tree growers would burn leaves under a mango tree in order to induce the trees to flower. However, not only that this process is tedious, it’s also impractical for those with large orchards.
When he pursued his doctorate in plant physiology at the University of Hawaii, one of his professors, Dr. A Carl Leopold happened to have done some research on plant growth regulators. The professor’s study revealed that: “when ethephon is absorbed by plant tissues, it is broken down into naturally occurring compounds—carbon dioxide, phosphate and the plant hormone ethylene—causing thinning, loosening or ripening in various crops.”
Upon returning to the Philippines, Barba continued his research on mangoes and began working in Quimara Farms which permitted him to experiment on different chemicals that may produce great results. This allowed him to discover how potassium nitrate can elicit reaction from mango trees. With just one kilo of potassium nitrate mixed in a hundred liters of water, you can already spray it on the plants and expect buds to start forming within a week.
With Barba’s discovery, mango growers and farmers were able to double or even triple their usual produce. This is when mangoes began to be made available in the market all year round. As he continued his studies, Barba found out that mango trees that were treated with potassium nitrate remained healthy and continued to bear fruits even after decades.
Because of the regularity of production, the Philippines became the second largest exporter of mangoes in the world. In 2014, mango production contributed to about P40 billion annually to the Philippine economy. Despite all these successes, just like Jonas Salk who developed the polio vaccine, Ramon Barba did not seek any royalty for his research even if it was patented in USA, England, Australia, and New Zealand simply because he wanted ordinary farmers to freely what he was able to discover.
He was conferred with the Order of National Scientist in 2014 by the late President Benigno Aquino III for everything that he has contributed in the field of plant physiology. Aside from his research on mangoes, his team at the Institute of Plant Breeding in UPLB has also developed the tissue culture protocol for banana and sugarcane – which enables large quantity production of disease-free planting materials. They have also developed micropropagation protocols for more than 40 species of plants including cassava, white potato, rattan, ramie, bamboo, and many others.
Last Sunday, Dr. Ramon Barba passed away at the age of 82. With his status as a national scientist, he is entitled to state honors and burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. His life may have ended but his research that greatly impacted our local farmers and agriculturists around the world will surely continue to fruit in the years to come.