The Department of Agriculture (DA) is hoping to replicate an abaca integration project in typhoon-stricken areas in the Central Philippines to provide alternative livelihood to families and enhance the industry’s competitiveness globally.
Under the “Abakayamanan” program, the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA) and Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) aims to help farmers in typhoon-affected provinces to bounce back through the use of technology, which combines farming of abaca with other crops like coconut.
“We may be able to duplicate the project. Even prior to the Yolanda, Leyte and Samar are already the biggest provinces in abaca production,” said Dr. Editha Lomerio, Abakayamanan project head.
“We can have a holistic approach in our abaca production through Abakayamanan. It’s a food security source, and we may also have it as a zero waste crop,” Lomerio said.
BAR has initially released P1.8 million for the Abakayamanan project, which was pioneered in Bicol region. The pilot areas are San Roque, Maliliput, Albay and Gubat, Sorsogon.
The BAR-FIDA project on Abakayamanan is an integration of abaca operations. First, there is intercropping particularly of abaca with coconut farms.
For short-gestating crops, among the crops integrated with abaca were okra, pechay, squash, eggplant, upo, mungbean, sweet potato, pole sitao, snap bean, ginger, papaya, and pineapple.
Abakayamanan brought a 13 percent increase in abaca area in Bicol Region to 50,212 hectares, employing 21,134 farmers. Bicol’s abaca fiber production contributes 37 percent of the country’s total production.
Abakayamanan implemented integrated farming system, disease management, Integrated Pest Management, and value adding through manufacturing of handicraft and other products. Integrated to abaca planting are animal (like goat) growing, mushroom growing, and composting to produce organic fertilizer.
Based on studies conducted by the agency, the program has already raised farmers’ income in two pilot areas by P14,400 per 1,000 square meters.
Because of the program’s success, BAR Director Nicomedes Eleazar said they are now pushing for the wider implementation of the project in other abaca-producing provinces.
Eleazar said that the replication of the Abakayaman project in Leyte-Samar will enhance the marketing of quality abaca manufacturing in the Philippines especially in light of a certification for sustainable forest management obtained by manufacturers.
Abaca manufacturer Glatfelter (Germany) which has an abaca manufacturing plant in Barrio Maria Cristina, Balo, Lanao Del Norte has obtained a FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) from New York-based Rainforest Alliance.
Glatfelter manages Newtech Pulp, a producer and exporter of abaca pulp, has been teaching its constituent farmers to plant trees sustainably. Its systems encourage greening of forest and soil erosion prevention.
The company is one of the leading manufacturers of composite fibers, specialty papers, and engineered products made from abaca.
“As Eastern Visayas has been the biggest producer of abaca fiber in the country, planting of abaca will definitely help rehabilitate the typhoon-stricken provinces,” Eleazar said.
Leyte, Southern Leyte and Northern Samar are currently among the country’s 10 biggest abaca producers. The other top provinces are Catanduanes, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, Leyte, Sulu, Davao Oriental, Camarines Sur, and Surigao del Sur.
The Philippines is considered the world’s biggest supplier of abaca products with export value of around $100 million. As of 2011, the total area devoted to abaca in the Philippines was 172,528 hectares at a total product of 73,274 metric tons of abaca fiber.
The abaca industry is also considered as a significant job generator. As of 2011, FIDA noted it employed 111,112 farmers and 506 traders.
Employment in groups includes 17 licensed traders-exporters; 13 licensed GBEs (grading and baling establishments); six cordage firms; six licensed pulp manufacturers; and 109 licensed fibercraft processors.
Eleazar said that opportunities abound the abaca industry as Ecuador, the Philippines’ next competitor in supply, is reducing its abaca area, according to Lomerio.
The Philippines also has the competitive edge in abaca production due to its quality—durable, clean white, and long fibers.
The country exports its abaca pulp, fiber and other products mainly to the United Stated, Europe, and Japan. There is an expanding markets for abaca fiber made into denim in Japan. JAMES KONSTANTIN GALVEZ