National Scientist Ramon C. Barba, 82

National Scientist Dr. Ramon C. Barba (Photo from DOST)

Dr. Ramon C. Barba, the scientist behind the year-round availability of fresh mangoes, passed away on 10 October 2021 at the age of 82.

Dr. Barba was known for his distinguished achievements in the field of plant physiology, focusing on induction of flowering of mango and on micropropagation of important crop species that have earned him national and international accolades. By virtue of Malacañang Proclamation No. 783 signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III on 6 June 2014, Dr. Ramon C. Barba was conferred the Order of National Scientist, the highest recognition given by the President of the Republic of the Philippine to a Filipino man or woman of science in the Philippines who has made significant contributions in one of the different fields of science and technology. This award was created under Presidential Decree No. 1003-A on 16 December 1976.

His pioneering work on the induction of flowering and fruiting of mango resulted in the change from seasonal supply of fresh fruits to year-round availability of abundant fresh mangoes.  The regularity of mango production is the key ingredient in the development of mango exports, which gave rise to an entirely new industry of processed mango products. He developed the plant growth enhancer, FLUSH, which accelerates the growth cycle of the trees and advance their flowering and fruiting stages to assure continuous fruit bearing of mango trees. The discovery guaranteed regular or controlled flowering of mango trees and in many dry areas like Cebu and Guimaras, hence, the flowering period for the whole country was not just confined to March and April but has extended to several months, promising a supply of mangoes throughout the year.

This mango induction technology was patented not only in the Philippines but also in other countries, such as USA, England, Australia, and New Zealand. He did not collect any royalty from the patent so that ordinary farmers can freely use the technology. Nowadays, many mango producing countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Australia have adopted the technology for their mango production.

Furthermore, this technology has been successfully applied on other fruit trees including cashew.

His outstanding works on plant micropropagation led major changes in the production schemes of several important crops.  He and his team at the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) at the University of the Philippines (UP) Los Baños developed the tissue culture protocol for banana in order to produce large quantities of planting materials that are robust and disease-free, allowing for annual replanting, which brought major shift in banana production system, now a standard practice in large farms not only in the Philippines but also in other countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. 

He also established the tissue culture protocol for sugar cane that made possible the rapid production of large quantities of disease-free planting materials. This became the standard practice in disease cleaning of sugar cane varieties.  Tissue culture of sugar cane has become an integral part of sugar cane agriculture worldwide.

Together with his research team, they also developed micropropagation protocols for more than 40 important species of ornamental, fruit, and plantation crops, aquarium plants, and forest trees including cassava, white potato, rattan, bamboo, ramie, derris, garlic, and shallot, in addition to banana and sugar cane. He further did innovative methodologies in solving problems of major importance using simple tools.

National Scientist Barba completed his B.S. in Agriculture at the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture (UPCA) in 1958.  He served as Assistant Instructor from 1958 to 1960 at the Department of Agronomy, Fruit Crops Section, UP Collage of Agriculture.  He pursued his graduate studies in the U.S. from 1960 to 1962 at the University of Georgia for his M.Sc. degree in Horticulture, and from 1962 to 1964 at the University of Hawaii with an East-West Center grant. He finished his Ph.D. in Horticulture in 1967.

Dr. Barba returned to the Philippines in 1968 and was appointed Assistant Professor in 1969, later resigned in 1975, and re-appointed as Professor I in 1981. The founding director of IPB, National Scientist Emil Q. Javier, invited Dr. Barba to initiate and develop the Tissue Culture Laboratory, now Plant Cell and Tissue Culture Laboratory and its Tissue Culture Program. Dr. Barba became its first Program Leader from 1975 to the late 1980s (without compensation) and has continued to serve as Senior Consultant on plant tissue culture and plant physiology to researchers and students.

He, likewise, held significant positions in different private institutions such as Consultant, Quimara Farms on Mango Production (1969-1985) and Project Director of CORE Foundation (1984-1988). He was also part-time Director of Research at Plantek, a biotechnology company in Singapore partly owned by Tata of India and Sumitomo of Japan from 1985 to 1988.

He received numerous awards, such as The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines for Agriculture by the Philippine Jaycees (1974), Rizal Pro Patria Presidential Award for Tissue Culture (1980), the Most Distinguished Alumni Award, University of the Philippines (2004), and the SEARCA-Dioscoro L. Umali Achievement Award in Agricultural Development (2011), among others.

In 2004, Dr. Barba was elected member by the general membership at the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL), the country’s highest recognition and advisory body to the government and science community on matters related to science and technology.