Ramon Barba may very well be the most well-known Filipino scientist especially to the agriculturally-involved individuals in the Philippines. This is because of his contributions for the advancements concerning the mango industry in the country. Being one of the leading exporters of mangoes all over the world, Ramon Barba’s scientific breakthroughs in the field of horticulture or the science of growing and cultivating fruits has been a much welcomed improvement to the country’s mango export industry.
Early Life and Personal Background
Ramon Barba was born on August 31, 1939 as the youngest of the four children. His father, Juan Madamba Barba was a lawyer, and his mother Lourdes Cabanos was, like Ramon himself, a University of the Philippines graduate too.
He finished his elementary education in 1951 at the Sta. Rosa Academy where he was the third highest in his batch. His high school years were spent in the University of the Philippines. That was where he met Dr. Helen Layosa Valmayor who was famous for her research about orchids and she was his teacher in their Biology laboratory classes.
Ramon Barba went to the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna to finish his college degree. In 1958, he graduated and gained his degree in Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, major in Agronomy. His inspirations had been Juan Cabanas, his grandfather, who was then an official of the BPI or the Bureau of Plants and Industry and Dr. L.G. Gonzales who is considered as the father of horticulture in the Philippines.
He received a scholarship which allowed him to attend the University of Georgia where he was able to conduct a number of experiments about how to make plants flower using gibberellic acid along with potassium nitrate. In 1962, he graduated Master of Master of Science in Horticulture from the University of Georgia.
Ramon Barba didn’t stop at gaining his master’s degree with distinctions from the University of Georgia. He furthered his education by finishing his Doctorate in Plant Physiology, specializing in Tropical Fruits and Tissue Culture in the East-West Center in Hawaii. He earned his doctorate in 1967 and this makes him a Ph.D. in Horticulture.
Career and Contributions in the Field of Horticulture
The Philippines is known as a largely agricultural country, and Ramon Barba’s dedication to finding a solution to help the mango export flourish even more has made a great positive impact to the country’s benefit from this fruit-bearing tree. However, his road to success wasn’t easy.
Filipino mango tree growers already had a practice on how to make the mango trees flower and it involved using smoke to help bring about flowering. Barba, however, saw this as a tedious and expensive practice which was what made him think of a more probable and practical solution to make the mango trees flower more while he was still a student.
He had to face several rejections when it came to his proposal of applying the technique he developed to make mango trees flower more often which would lead to more fruit production. The trees are seasonal, and this limits the country’s chance to earn from export because of the wait that the trees naturally need to have before being able to bear more fruits. Thanks to the help of Ramon Barba’s friends in Quimara Farms who were Mr. and Mrs. Jose Quimson, Ramon Barba was able to conduct his experiment on 400 mango trees which were 10-12 years old each and yielded positive results from his studies.
The research he conducted at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos made use of ethylene in combination with potassium nitrate. Since ethylene was a gas and in order to induce flowering, the plant has to be covered in the substance being used, he had thought of using potassium nitrate based on other studies which showed that there was a link between the two.
Lo and behold, the results from the simple experiment were astounding. After combining a kilo of potassium nitrate with a hundred liters of water and spraying it on the plants, the buds began forming a week later. After two weeks, these buds became flowers and from further studies conducted, the spraying of potassium nitrate and water onto mango trees helped in tripling the yield which made mangoes available thrice instead of just once a year. Trees which were sprayed with the potassium nitrate and water combination had fruits which were 15% smaller, but overall, the mangoes were great and the trees which had been sprayed still give fruit even after 30 years later.
Even after having the positive results, Ramon Barba met another challenge regarding the patent of his invention. He had read in a paper that another individual had patented his invention, but he went on to contest it as he along with everyone else in the Philippine scientific community believed that it was his invention. After getting in touch with a lawyer, they brought the case up with the Philippine patent office and after investigation, they learned that no patent has been granted yet and the supporting documents he gave regarding his research proved that he was indeed the inventor for the mango flowering method.
The Positive Effects of Ramon Barba’s Efforts
Since the discovery of Ramon Barba’s method to induce flowering for mango plants, the mango industry in the Philippines has experienced and mangoes have since then been considered the number one fruit crop of the country. Apart from the mango producers themselves, other business sectors such as the producers of the pest control chemicals, harvesters, sellers, and all the other smaller groups of workers related to mango industry had benefitted from his invention.
Because of his invention, Ramon Barba became one of the recipients of the 1974 TOYM Awardees for Agriculture and he has also received the IBM-DOST Award in 1989 as well as the DA-Khush Achievement Award and the Gamma Sigma Delta Achievement Award both in 1995. In 1974 as well as 1981, the Crop Science Society of the Philippines gave him the Best Paper Award. In a country where agricultural export plays a big role in the economy and improvement of lives, Ramon Barba’s contributions are indeed worthy of the recognition.