Ramon Barba is a well-known Filipino scientist, especially to agriculturally involved individuals in the Philippines for contributing towards advancements in the mango industry.
He developed a process that caused the flowering and fruiting of mango trees three times a year, instead on once a year, so dramatically improving yields.
In 2013 Ramon Barba became National Scientist in the Philippines for his “distinguished achievements in the field of plant physiology, focusing on induction of flowering of mango and on micro propagation of important crop species.”
Early Life and Personal Background
Ramon Barba was born on August 31, 1939, the youngest of the four children. His father, Juan Madamba Barba was a lawyer, and his mother Lourdes Cabanos was, like Ramon himself, a graduate of the University of the Philippines.
He finished his elementary education in 1951 at the Sta. Rosa Academy where he was the third highest in his group. Barba then attended the University of the Philippines where he met Dr. Helen Layosa Valmayor who was famous for her research about orchids; she was his teacher for biology laboratory classes.
At the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna finished his college degree. In 1958, he graduated and obtained his degree in Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, with a major in agronomy and fruit production.
His inspiration to study in this field came from his grandfather, Juan Cabanas, who was then an official of the Bureau of Plants and Industry (BPI) and Dr. L.G. Gonzales who is considered as the father of horticulture in the Philippines.
After graduating, Barba served as an assistant instructor from 1958 to 1960 in the Department of Agronomy, Fruit Crops Section, University of the Philippines College of Agriculture (UPCA).
Barba left his university position to take up a scholarship which allowed him to attend the University of Georgia. There, he conducted a number of experiments concerning how to make plants flower using fertilizers containing gibberellic acid and potassium nitrate. In 1962, he graduated with distinction with a Master of Science in Horticulture from the University of Georgia.
He furthered his education by obtaining a doctorate in plant physiology, specializing in tropical fruits and tissue culture in the East-West Center in Hawaii. He earned his doctorate in 1967 with a Ph.D. in horticulture.
Barba was appointed as assistant professor at the UPCA in 1969, later resigning in 1975. He was re-appointed as a professor in 1981.
From 1975 to the late 1980’s he was also program leader of the Plant Cell and Tissue Culture Laboratory of the Institute of Plant Breeding.
He also held several private consultancy positions during his career.
Career and Contributions in the Field of Mango Horticulture
The Philippines is known as a largely agricultural country, and Barba’s dedication to finding a solution to help mango exports flourish benefited his home country. However, his road to success wasn’t straightforward.
Mango trees were seasonal, producing one crop a year and this limited the country’s ability to earn precious foreign income from exports, because of the time that the trees naturally take before bearing more fruits.
Filipino mango tree growers already had a system to make mango trees flower; it involved using smoke (smudging) to help induce flowering. Barba, however, while he was still a student, saw this as a tedious and expensive practice and he thought there must be a more practical solution to induce the mango trees to flower.
He proposed that a chemical spray with Etherel (2-chloroethylphosphonic acid) may induce flowering but could not obtain permissions to begin trials. He had previously conducted research using Etherel and potassium nitrate and wanted a trial to try these fertilizers on mango trees.
Barba faced several rejections when he proposed applying the technique he developed to make mango trees flower more frequently. Thanks to the help of Ramon Barba’s friends in Quimara Farms, Mr. and Mrs. Jose Quimson, Ramon Barba conducted his experiment on 400 mango trees which were 10-12 years old spraying alternate tree branches with Etherel and potassium nitrate.
Lo and behold, the results from the simple experiment were astounding on the branches that had been sprayed with the potassium nitrate solution. After combining a kilo of potassium nitrate with a hundred liters of water and spraying it on the selected tree branches, the buds began forming a week later.
Barba patented his invention but charged no royalties, so allowing his findings to be of benefit to mango growers world-wide. He soon developed the plant growth enhancer “Flush” which speeds up the growth cycle of trees and advances flowering.
From further studies conducted spraying “Flush” onto mango trees. This product tripled the mango yield; making mangoes available thrice instead of just once a year; the fruits were 15% smaller, but overall, the mangoes were of good quality. Later studies showed that the trees which had been sprayed still bore fruit 30 years later.
Barba developed a tissue culture procedure for the banana plant which enabled production of large quantities of planting materials that were robust and disease-free.
He also developed a tissue culture procedure for sugar cane that allowed the rapid production of large amounts of disease-free planting materials.
With his research team, Barba devised micro propagation protocols for more than 40 important species of fruit crops, ornamental plants, plantation crops, aquarium plants, and forest trees.
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 expanded. 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 have benefitted from his invention. This technology has also been successfully applied on other fruit trees including cashew.
In 2013 Ramon C. Barba was conferred the rank and title of National Scientist in the Philippines for “his distinguished achievements in the field of plant physiology, focusing on induction of flowering of mango and on micro propagation of important crop species.”
Barba was elected a member to the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines in 2004.
Barba was a recipient of the 1974 Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines in Agriculture Awards. In 1974 and again in 1981, the Crop Science Society of the Philippines awarded him the Best Paper Award.