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Abaca farmers are getting richer

It is not a secret that the Philippines produces most of the world’s abaca needs, but the challenges now include putting more attention to the farmers who do the leg work  and how to convince more of them to engage in abaca farming because there is money in this homegrown fiber.

Officials from the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA), an attached agency to the Department of Agriculture (DA), are convinced that there’s indeed money in abaca farming.

Abaca farm in Zamboanga Sibugay (Photo from PhilFIDA) /2016.mb.com.ph

Abaca farm in Zamboanga Sibugay (Photo from PhilFIDA) /2016.mb.com.ph

And if it’s not yet fully established as a fact, the goal of the government really is to make the industry even more attractive not just to importers, but also to Filipino farmers who can take advantage of the growing demand for abaca products.

Petronilo Jabay, OIC-deputy executive director at PhilFIDA, said if the farmers will apply good agricultural practices, they could yield up to two tons of Abaca in one hectare  and could earn as much as P100,000 per hectare every harvest cycle of three to four months.

“If they are good at farming, they will really earn a lot,” Jabay told Business Bulletin.

Clarito Barron, officer in charge-executive director at PhilFIDA, claims that unlike rice farmers abaca farmers in the country are relatively getting richer.

“For me, yes [they are getting richer]. The expansion that we see now in the industry mostly involves small scale abaca farmers. Usually, they only allot five hectares, now they are getting 10 hectares. Even the indigenous people are also expanding their areas,” Barron said.

As of now, farmers could sell their yield for more than P50 per kilo but the value of their yield could get more expensive, around P70 to P100 per kilo, depending on the grades.

Barron said one of the agency’s top priorities is to boost the information drive about abaca farming and convince more people to engage in it.

Abaca is sold in different forms– pulp, cortage, raw fiber, fiber craft. Popular abaca products that could come out of these are tea and coffee bags, clothing, bags, furniture, among others.

Abaca is also an ideal companion crop especially under coconut and fruit-bearing trees and could provide secondary or additional income to farmers of different crops.

In the Philippines, Abaca is mainly produced in Catanduanes, Leyte, Northern Samar, Davao Oriental, Sulu, Surigao del Sur, Bukidnon, Southern Leyte, Davao del Sur, and Aklan.

The Philippines currently supplies to 89 percent of the world’s abaca needs, followed by Ecuador and Costa Rica.

What the industry needs

According to Jabay, the government needs to pour in at least P9 billion until 2020 in order to see the full potential of the Philippine abaca industry and cement its significant role in the global market.

This was specified in the Philippine Abaca Industry Roadmap recently drafted PhilFIDA.

The roadmap aims to help the government analyze the competitiveness of the Philippine abaca fiber, identify market trends and prospects emphasizing its role in green economy, define climate change mitigation and environmental preservation.

Barron said the P9-billion budget would be important as the country targets to produce up to 123,000 metric tons (MT) of abaca by 2019 and 149,000 MT by 2020.

“That P9 billion will be used for the implementation of PhilFIDA’s programs, the rehabilitation of abaca farms, disease management, provision of machines to poor farmers, and the training for the new generation of abaca farmers,” Barron said.

“We also need to add abaca tissue culture laboratory, diagnostic laboratory, then we would also need vehicles to transport abaca planting materials. We really need to do a lot of things in order to increase the supply of abaca in the country,” he added.

According to him, two of the most important things to do in order to revive the industry are to expand the area of abaca farming and to enhance the cultural management practices.

For this year alone, the country’s estimated budget for the abaca sector amounts to P600 million.

 More to be done

Over the past six years, Barron said abaca industry has improved a lot in terms of hectarage allotted to this particular commodity.

“When it comes to hectarage, annually, we increased to almost 1,000 hectares. There’s really an improvement. This is a market led industry,” he said.

Data shows that both the area planted to abaca as well as the number of farmers increased from 2014 to 2015 – from 176,548 hectares and 122,758 farmers in 2014, to 179,858 hectares and 125,530 farmers last year.

Last year, the country only produced 67,000 MT. As of the first quarter this year, the country already produced at least 8,000 MT of abaca.

According to Jabay, the target is for the country to produce around 72,000 MT of this commodity by the end of the year.

Former Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala earlier said the abaca industry needs a little push from the next government in order to yield a bigger production.

This concern has been recommended by Alcala to the new DA management to be led by incoming Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol.

“Not too many farmers want to go into the production of abaca, resulting to a low production,” Alcala said.

Alcala then asked PhilFIDA to utilize all resources and technologies available in order to maintain and keep existing abaca nurseries, which provide planting materials to the farmers.

“At the end of the day, farmers who want to expand will need quality planting materials, so it is important that nurseries will be available to deliver the necessary abaca clonal materials,” he said.

Alcala also told Barron to ensure that every regional office maintains a good supply of clonal abaca planting materials for the farmers.

He also urged Karen Roscom of DA-Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards to craft, as soon as possible, quality standards for abaca that will ensure competitiveness of the crop.