I ATTENDED the second anniversary of PhilFIDA, the government agency that emerged after the merger of the Fiber Industry Development Agency and the Cotton Authority, a rationalization move made to simplify overlapping matters between the two agencies. Both of them are decades old. They both deal with natural fibers; and cotton is one though it had its own agency. Aside from cotton, there are 15 other natural fibers that the Philippines has, which include abaca.
We are still the leading provider of abaca — our premiere natural fiber — which gives us millions in return for its export. The other fabrics are piña, the iconic pineapple fiber, maguey, buri, bamboo, waterlily, sisal and salago, a short fiber found in the wild and used for paper money.
Dr. Clarito Barron, Officer-in-Charge of PhilFIDA, gave us an insight on how these fibers are giving the country economic opportunities because of their being “unsynthetic.” These fibers are now being used massively in the aircraft and auto industry for things like door panels, dashboards, trunks, seats; as well as electronic goods like cellphones and laptops. They are part of the weight reduction moves of the industries that use them; and their use is a meaningful salute to the environment for it brings awareness to their biodegradable, natural, and benign presence in products.
By the way, mulberry is included because it feeds the silkworms that produce the cocoons that in turn produce silk. Coconut too, which produces coir used for soil erosion prevention and other products like mattresses and mats. You can also include banana (leaves and stalks used), and buri (manifested as buntal and raffia).
As Dr. Barron said, we are not producing enough of these fibers to meet the demand. So, that is what the PhilFIDA road map is all about – to raise production to meet demand and to benefit from the opportunities that a growing market will give to those who have the natural fibers. At present, world consumption growth rate for these fibers is 11 percent. And it is expected that the next five years will produce a growth rate of 15 percent.
The first thing on the road map is to increase hectarage of all natural fiber crops. This will entail convincing the farmers to plant, giving them a market, and helping them make a profit.
Abaca farmers are in demand but they have to be helped by rehabilitating the farms damaged by natural calamities. Yolanda took a toll on Leyte’s abaca industry, so did Pablo in Davao, typhoons that wreaked havoc by razing the plants to the ground in a destructive fury. Abaca is also prone to disease carried by aphids. A disease management program with a higher budget must be put in place to boost present efforts to fight it
Silk cocoon production has a high local demand. It is woven into a luxury fiber and even mixed with piña. PhilFIDA will focus on the local demand by putting into place more mulberry farms and silk cocoon processing plants.
Cotton is another fiber that has high local demand, specially now that weavers look for it to enhance the marketability and price of their product. PhilFIDA is quietly moving towards the limited propagation of heirloom cotton (our native cotton is of first class quality) for the discerning weavers and consumers who want it.
And finally after all these years of ruing the virtual disappearance of our ramie, PhilFIDA will push for an increase in its hectarage, reduced over the decades because of competition from China. But it is a fact that the quality of our ramie is better. So, we should keep it at a higher price.
All in all, PhilFIDA plans to have an adequate supply of disease-free planting materials and new and improved varieties of the natural fiber. Abaca, for example, has a number of varieties and PhilFIDA will identify those with the highest yields and disease-resistant for promotion.
Available production technologies will be used for the above and new areas for fiber production will be found.
Compliance with established standards of training and advocacy will be instilled among farmers to ensure fiber quality and competitiveness.
Common service facilities for post-harvest will be put in place. These will be community-based centers. And there will be the obligatory focus on research and development to enhance quantity and quality.
One goal will be to produce enough natural fibers so that R.A. 9242, the Philippine Tropical Fiber Act that mandates government office uniforms to have a certain percentage of our natural fibers, can at last be fully implemented.
We have dedicated scientists and government employees at work in agencies like PhilFIDA.