The Philippine Abaca Industry
The premiere traditional rope fiber of the world continues to generate jobs and earns millions of dollars for the country. But how can this be sustained?
Abaca (Musa textiles Nee) belongs to the banana family (Musaceae) and is indigenous to the Philippines. Abaca fiber is superior over all other fibers of its class because of its great strength and its resistance to the action of water. Thus, it is the cordage of choice for ropes used in oil dredging or exploration, navies and merchant shipping (PCARRD, 2008).
Due to the importance of abaca industry to the country, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), one of the five sectoral councils under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), has allotted a total of Php142 million research funds for its rehabilitation.
Accordingly, the amount will spin total fiber production from 78,000 metric tons (MT) to 104,900 MT thereby raising abaca farmers’ income by Php8,530.00 per hectare and increasing exports from 19.7 thousand MT to 21.7 thousand MT. Thus, maintaining its prominence in the international market.
Importance of abaca fiber
PCARRD noted that “abaca fiber is the premier traditional rope fiber of the world and one of the Philippines’ longstanding export commodities. It is also a basic material for coarse and stiff clothing and footwear. Lately however, its light, strong and durable fibers have found usefulness in many non-traditional uses. These include non-woven, disposable and fiber composites for the automotive industry.”
In the pulp and paper industries, abaca fibers are used for tea bags, meat and sausage casings, cigarette papers, filter papers, currency notes and stencil papers.
Hence, “the unfolding of the fiber’s various uses and the growing preference for natural raw materials provide limitless opportunities for the abaca industry.”
Current status of the industry According to Dr. Patricio S. Faylon, PCARRD’s executive director, “the Philippines is the abaca capital of the world.”
The PCARRD’s S & T (Science and Technology) Fact Sheet revealed the following facts and figures on the state of the art of the country’s abaca industry:
The Philippines contributes 84% of the total world abaca fiber production, a dominant lead in the global abaca market. Such market dominance has made abaca one of the country’s top dollar earners. Within the last decade, it contributed an average of US$76.8 million annually in export earnings.
In 1995-2004, processed fibers contributed 80% of the total abaca exports. Furthermore, in 2004, abaca fiber with its manufactures, was among the top ten agricultural export commodities of the country, with FOB US$79.8 million.
Likewise, “the abaca industry is of particular importance as it supports the livelihood of around 140,000 abaca farm workers and strippers, as well as 78,00o small farmers with approximately more than 430,000 dependents and 143,429 strippers. The fiber craft industry, which produces bags, rugs, placemats, hats, hot pads, coasters, yarns, and hand-woven fabrics, provides livelihood to rural women and out-of-school youths.”
PCARRD added that “the advent of synthetic fibers considerably brought down the world demand for abaca in the last four decades. Nonetheless, abaca remains popular worldwide for its use in cordage and fiber craft. And with the resurging interest and preference for natural products and the expanding applications of abaca fiber, the Philippines can expect increased demand in the future.”
As to the area planted to abaca, it grew at a rate of 2.1% annually during the period of 1995-2004 with fiber production growing at a slower rate of 1.5% annually.
A major challenge though is the industry’s declining productivity brought about by poor technology adoption of farmers, low input production practice, prevalence of diseases, and lack of clean, high-yielding planting materials that have adversely affected production. The low income associated with these problems has forced many farmers to shift to other crops.
What should be done?
To ensure the industry’s continued stronghold in both the domestic and international markets, PCARRD supports a two-pronged approach: 1) raise productivity and profitability of abaca growing for small farmers particularly in Bicol, Eastern Visayas, and parts of Mindanao; and 2) diversify uses and export destinations of abaca fibers and manufacturers to maintain the country’s competitiveness in the world fiber trade.
Likewise, PCARRD promotes science and technology interventions that will strengthen a science-based commercial abaca farming/ management system. The judicious use of inputs and farm mechanization will be encouraged.
PCARRD also expects that “disease-resistant varieties can be produced in 2012. With the development of clean and high-yielding planting materials, growers will be encouraged to plant abaca and expand their farms to respond to the expected increase in demand. This will contribute to the rehabilitation of 82,000 hectares of infected farms and expand the abaca production areas by 32,000 hectares, specifically found in Palawan, Bicol Region, Eastern Visayas and Mindanao. Small farms will be clustered so that mechanized stripping can be practiced.”
As such, raising productivity and profitability involves increasing fiber yield per hectare, improving extraction efficiency and raising fiber farm gate price.
Moreover, PCARRD said that “diversification requires strengthening market research/ intelligence and information system for abaca; exploring/developing, other uses/applications of abaca fiber and manufactures; developing new abaca home, personal care, and fashion products; launching design competitions and launching promotion drives; and participating in international fairs and exhibitions to penetrate new markets.”
Components of the S & T interventions
PCARRD outlines the following components: a) increase the production of quality fiber through the use of tissue-cultures high-yielding varieties and genetic resource improvement, b) control abaca pests and diseases through a sustained rehabilitation and eradication program, quarantine and integrated pest management, c) improve postharvest facilities and technologies, including fiber extraction, drying, and waste management and d) improve extension services and build capabilities through training programs.
Linkages and partners
To attain the goal, PCARRD will collaborate with the following agencies: Fiber Industry Development Authority, National Abaca Research Center, University of the Philippines Los Banos, University of Southern Mindanao, Bicol University, Northern Mindanao State Institute of Science and Technology, Department of Agriculture, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry, and Center for International Trade Expositions and Mission.
To avail of the research funds, PCARRD needs proposals along the various components of the S&T interventions. Interested parties can contact PCARRD through e-mail at email@example.com.