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The Philippine Abaca Industry

The Philippine Abaca Industry

By: Adrianne Dianne Isabelle R. Saldua

Musa Textilis or the Abaca plant is indigenous to the Philippines. This tree like plant resembles the banana, however, they differ from each other through these characteristics; the leaves of the Abaca are narrower with pointed ends and a dark green colour. The banana leaves are broader with a light green shade.

The abaca plant

the banana plant

The parts of the Abaca plant are relatively smaller than that of the banana and its fruit is not as palatable. This plant can easily be mistaken for a banana plant.

For abaca farmers the most important part of this plant is the stalk which is the source of the fiber. Stronger than cotton and two times stronger than the sisal fiber, abaca is considered as the strongest fiber there is. The abaca industry is mainly played by a series of players namely the farmers, strippers, classifiers, traders, fiber exporters, and processors. This product is known worldwide as the “Manila Hemp” which placed the Philippines in a top spot for the export of the product.

https://i2.wp.com/kalibo.org/business/bags/abaca-dried-fiber.jpg

raw abaca fiber

Sadly, the abaca prices have been going down and it has affected the livelihood of the many abaca strippers that are relying on the product for their daily needs.

abaca stripper

The prices went down from 67 pesos of a kilo of excellent grade fiber to 37 pesos in less than a year in 2008 ( Sarmiento Jr, 2009). The decline of the abaca industry has affected many families like the family of Felix Tresvalles, a 59 year-old abaca stripper who took his own life due to depression. When the police interviewed his wife, she said that the constant worrying of how he will support his family after the prices collapsed drove him to give up on his battle versus poverty.

Luckily, thanks to the go green campaign and the craze for organic products, the abaca industry is recovering. 2009 was considered as the Year of the Natural Fiber and that was when the increase in the demand for the abaca fiber was expected to make its comeback. The demand for the fiber locally and worldwide started increasing with the fashion industry taking on the clean and green style for clothing the demand started to peak a little further.

Yellow wrap made from abaca designed by Dita Sandico Ong is exported around the world.

With around 90% of the fibers being exported from the Philippines (“The return of,” 2009) there was no doubt that the industry was indeed starting to get back in shape. Abaca products are now being sold everywhere, bags, mats, rugs, purses, paper wrappers, chairs, other furniture, slippers, rope and even abaca soap is sold in the market.

abaca soap

This has done good things for our economy earning about US$76 million a year and employed 1.5 million people for the year 2009 (“The return of,” 2009). Being only cultivated in certain provinces in the Philippines like Sorsogon, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Catanduanes, Northern Samar, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur, Sulu, and Surigao del Sur by around 94,000 Abaca farmers, the total fibers produced over a year is 78,000 tons which is valued at over P6 billion (“The return of,” 2009). By 2020-when the goal of expanding farms to 32,600 hectares-abaca fiber production is expected to reach 152,000 metric tons (“The return of,” 2009). In 2001, the market’s rise was temporarily put in limbo because of the problems with the recession in the United States. In 2005, the production was increased that helped the abaca market to recover. After two years of fruitful production, it hit its lowest mark with 60,723 metric tons due to bacterial infections and destructions from a series of storms that hit the country (“Production and market,”). Despite the many problems, the production level sky rocketed to its highest production for the decade with 77,389 metric tons for the year 2008 (“Production and market,”). This was because of the doubled efforts of the provinces to produce the fiber naming Catanduanes as the “top producing province”.

This plant is truly a treasure of our country. The fibers it produces are so versatile that being known for its great strength it is used to make footwear, high strength rope, vacuum cleaner bags, paper used in some currencies, door mats, and other durable specialty paper. It is also being made into those thin delicate products like, filter paper, tea bags, lens tissue, carbonizing tissue, sausage skin or meat casings, base paper, and cigarette paper.

abaca tea bags

abaca sofa

abaca slippers

No wonder that the demand for Abaca fiber is starting to surge and countries like the United States, China, United Kingdom, Japan, France and South Korea are among the top countries that import the products. The United Kingdom alone imports an average of 7,501 metric tons or 48.5% of the ten-year average exports (“Production and market,”). Among our Asian neighbours, Japan accounts for the biggest share in the market with 87.8% of the annual metric ton of fibers imported by Asian countries (“Production and market,”). They use abaca fiber with the materials that they use to print the Japanese yen as a security feature to avoid counterfeiting.

Japan's yen banknotes contain up to 30% abaca

With the whole world “going green”, the art and fashion industry embracing the use of Abaca and the constant export of the Manila Hemp, the Abaca industry will be back on its feet taking the Philippine economy with it and saving the environment at the same time.

 

References:

Abaca philippines. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.abacaphilippines.com/abaca.php?go=about&show=plant

Sarmiento Jr, J. V. (2009, May 7). Abaca industry strippers’ lives hanging by a thread. Retrieved from                 http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/talkofthetown/view/20090705-213911/Abaca-industry/

The return of abaca. (2009, April 7). Retrieved from http://www.agribusinessweek.com/the-return-of-abaca/

Department of Agriculture, Fiber Industry Development Authority. (n.d.). Production and market scenario. Retrieved from           website: http://fida.da.gov.ph/Templates/abaca_production_and_market_scenario.htm

Photo references:

(2011). Retrieved from http://kalibo.org/business/bags/abaca-plant.jpg

Fair Trade Community. (Photographer). (2012). Retrieved from http://www.fairtradecommunity.com/images/phocagallery/gallery/fair_trade_food/bananas/thumbs/phoca_thumb_l_banana_plants_001.jpg

Abaca Philippines. (Photographer). (2007). Retrieved from http://www.abacaphilippines.com/images/abaca_other_parts.jpg

(2011). Retrieved from http://kalibo.org/business/bags/abaca-dried-fiber.jpg

(2009). Retrieved from http://farm1.static.flickr.com/200/474256659_7970556893.jpg

Mongabay. (Photographer). (2011). Retrieved from http://data.mongabay.com/commodities/include/chart-data.php?page_title=Production Quantity of Manila Fibre (Abaca) {{ in Philippines – 1961-2009&category_id=1&category_name=Production&subcategory_id=1&subcategory_name=Crops&item_id=809&item_name=Manila Fibre (Abaca)&element_id=51&element_name=Production Quantity&country_id=171&country_name=Philippines

Dita Sandico Ong. (Designer). (2009). Retrieved from http://yoi.nu/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/wrap2.jpg

Retrieved from http://i01.i.aliimg.com/photo/v0/110932811/Sheilla_Sofa_Abaca.jpg

Retrieved from http://i00.i.aliimg.com/photo/v0/109268804/Abaca_Sandals.jpg

(2007). Retrieved from http://www.abacaphilippines.com/images/pic_left02.jpg

Cai. (Photographer). (2007). Retrieved from http://www.catanduanesforum.com/system/files/images/abaca tea bags.preview.JPG

(2009). Retrieved from http://lh3.ggpht.com/_zIfNAHORWRQ/SuP6OT8GS-I/AAAAAAAAG9U/J-

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