ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE (Darwin Wee / 30 Sept) – The Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA) in Western Mindanao has expressed optimism that it would exceed the 8,000 hectares targeted for abaca plantation in the region in three years time.
FIDA regional director Eduardo B. Holoyohoy said the government is targeting to expand the abaca plantation to at least 50,000 hectares in different abaca production areas in the country under the National Abaca Development Program.
"Although our initial target is 8,000 hectares, we are confident to go beyond our target abaca plantation areas to more than 10,000 hectares," he told the Mindanao Examiner.
Mr. Holoyohoy attributed the upbeat projection after several local investors signified their interest to develop and transform idle agricultural land to abaca plantation in the region.
He said the bulk of the expansion projects are in the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
In Zamboanga del Norte alone, at least 7,000 hectares are expected to be fully planted with abaca within this year, he said.
"Currently, we have 2,000 hectares in Siocon town in Zamboanga del Norte which is being funded by the Canadian mining firm TVI Resource Development Phils., Inc., under its so-called corporate social responsibility program."
"Another private firm has pledged to develop 5,000 hectares in Sibuco town also in Zamboanga del Norte. The proposal is yet to be presented to Agricultural Commodity Enhancement Fund," he said.
In addition, Mr. Holoyohoy said that there are also two private investors from Manila and Cagayan de Oro City in Northern Mindanao which are also eyeing to plant 5,000 hectares in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province and 2,000 hectares more in Zamboanga Sibugay.
To maintain the abaca seedlings distribution in the region, FIDA is establishing at least two new seed banks and nurseries.
"This is to augment the current seed stocks in Kalawit and Muntiya towns in Zamboanga del Norte. Seed banks and nurseries are very important for us to be able to realize the project. This will be the source of all the planting materials," he said.
He said another investor in Zamboanga Sibugay has already established a five-hectare nursery to supply the needs of its 300 hectares abaca plantations.
Currently, Western Mindanao has about 10,000 hectares planted to abaca. In 2005, the abaca production in this region reached more than 106 tons, a 50% increase compared from the previous year.
Mr. Holoyohoy said at least 95% of the total production of abaca in Western Mindanao comes from Sulu Archipelago. Last year, Sulu produced more than 2,500 tons of raw abaca fiber.
Being the major abaca producing province, Sulu also has the biggest plantation of abaca in the region with a little over 5,000 hectares.
FIDA's planning officer Concepcion A. de Barras, said the Zamboanga Peninsula, which comprises Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Norte, do not have any abaca processing plant.
She said the at least 80% of raw abaca fiber is delivered to Lanao del Norte province and the rest are being delivered to Leyte and in Cebu in the Central Philippines.
The region has at least 45 buying stations of abaca and majority of it falls in the classification of Class C and Class D traders which could only supply some 25,000 kilos of abaca per year.
She said the current buying prices of abaca in the region ranges from P33 to as high as P43 per kilo depending on the location of the farmers and where the accumulation of the fiber is done.
There are more than 3,000 abaca farmers. She said to encourage more farmers to plant abaca; FIDA is stepping up its training program for farmers to boost abaca production in the region.
"We are conducting an average of 20 trainings per year on basic abaca planting and techniques on fiber craft manufacturing," she said.
Ms. de Barras noted that the abaca industry in this region still faces the "perennial" problem such as lack of post-harvest facilities, processing, and marketing.
"In terms of technology, the Western Mindanao region is still lagging from new machines particularly in stripping, which majority of the farmers strips the abaca manually," she said.
Abaca is obtained from a banana-like plant, which is known scientifically as "Musa textiles." It is indigenous to the Philippines but is also found in Borneo, and Indonesia.
It is also considered the strongest of natural fibers being three times stronger than cotton and two times stronger than sisal fiber. Aside from rope, abaca fibers are also being used as a major component for food packaging as in tea bags and meat casings, filter papers and cigarettes papers.
It is also being use in tarpaulin, such as billboards, photo frames, albums, stationery, flowers, all purpose cards and decorations, among others. Abaca pulp is also use as a component in producing currency notes in some countries.
With the new technology, abaca seeds are also being used in shampoo making and pastries, according to Ms. de Barras.
Based on the 2006 Philippine Abaca Industry Report, the demand of abaca raw materials, which include its fibers, pulps and seeds are increasing with an average of 3% annually both local and exports consumption.
Abaca remains as a major dollar earner, with the Philippines accounting for 85% of the world supply. Exports of raw abaca fibers and processed abaca fibers generate average annual earnings of $76 million with an estimated 1.5 million Filipinos dependent on abaca for their livelihood, the report said.
The United States, United Kingdom, Japan, France, and South Korea are among the major markets for abaca fiber.
Mr. Holoyohoy said local farmers should look at the great potential of planting abaca. "Abaca is a cash crop for local farmers and planting abaca will greatly help them to augment their income. We are now on the massive campaign in encouraging our farmers to help us improve production and meet the demand for both the local and the international markets," he said. (Mindanao Examiner)