Less than a year after Congress passed a measure declaring the province as the abaca capital of the Philippines, Catanduanes’ abaca fiber production has plunged to its lowest in the past 10 years.
According to statistics of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA), the production of hand-stripped fiber by more than 13,000 farmers in the island totaled only 112,956.30 bales in 2021, compared to 133,183.30 in 2012. Each bale weighs 125 kilograms.
The previous high was in 2016 at 170,615.90 bales before typhoon Nina struck the southern towns on Dec. 25 that year, reducing the 2017 output to 145,432.80 bales.
It rebounded to 159,228.30 bales in 2018 and 146,929.40 in 2019 but the impact of super typhoon Rolly in November 2020 further cut the fiber output to 122,423.2 bales by the end of the year that featured three successive typhoons.
Figures from PhilFIDA Catanduanes are slightly higher but overall production is on the downtrend, according to Provincial Fiber Officer Roberto Lusuegro.
It showed that from 21,608 metric tons in 2019, the island’s fiber output fell by nearly 17% to 18,003 MT in 2020 and dropped further to 16,611 MT last year.
Since 2019, when the Bicol region produced a total of 177,643.30 bales of abaca fiber, its output has fallen to 146,135.1 bales in 2020 and 132,687.40 bales, or a total decrease of 44,955 bales, the agency’s website showed.
Of the lost output regionwide, Catanduanes accounted for 75% or 33,973.1 bales.
As a result of the significant decrease in local harvests, the island province’s share of the national abaca fiber production has slid from 33.7 percent in 2019 to 31.72% in 2020 and just 26.17% last year.
And there are indications that the 2022 output would be lower than last year’s figure.
Data culled from monthly bailing of Philippine fibers show that for the January to July 2022 period, the island produced only 53,893 bales of abaca, over 25% short of the 72,343 bales counted for the same period in 2021.
Already, Catanduanes’ total output in the first seven months of the year has been matched by Davao Oriental and Bukidnon which produced a total of 53,400 bales.
In 2021, Bukidnon more than doubled its abaca fiber production to 43,417 bales while Davao Oriental hiked its harvest by nearly 10% to 59,160 bales.
No less than PhilFIDA Executive Director Kennedy Costales described as “very alarming” the decline in Bicol’s share of the country’s total abaca output.
PhilFida data showed the 19,838 MT is the lowest abaca output by Bicol Region since 2011 and marks the first time in the past 11 years that abaca output in the region fell below the 20,000-MT mark.
This slashed its share of the country’s total abaca output to just 29 percent from an average share of 37.46 percent in 2011 to 2020.
“In 2019, said region produced 26,728.1 MT and in 2020, 21,946.22 MT or a contraction of -17.89 percent. In 2021, it dipped further to only 19,838.7 MT versus 2019 production, or a contraction of -25.78 percent within a span of only just two years,” he said in a press statement.
Citing the consecutive decrease of 17.89 percent and 25.78 percent in 2020 and 2021, Costales said that if the downtrend continues, abaca fiber production in the Bicol region will disappear in six to seven years.
He blamed the downward trend on “bacbac” gathering and “pojada” harvesting by local farmers that lead to the spread of diseases to the industry.
In the news report, he said that these malpractices involve the harvesting of immature abaca plants, which contain diseases that the harvesters or gatherers are not aware of. The diseases, he noted, are transferred to the knives that the gatherers use to harvest and then spread to other abaca plants, including those free from diseases, that are being harvested or gathered.
“The whole plantation then gets infected by the virus and in about six months’ time the abaca plantation area is wiped out and its neighboring abaca plantation within a kilometer or two also gets infected because of the aphid vectors,” he explained.
On the other hand, the “pojada” practice involves the trader buying the whole abaca plantation and , in order to maximize the profit, he also harvests the immature or young abaca plants, spreading the virus, he added.
Costales also attributed the declining Bicol output to the lack of proper farm management by some abaca farmers due to the “plant and forget” attitude.
However, PhilFIDA Catanduanes’ Lusuegro told the Tribune that the significant reduction in fiber production in Catanduanes in 2021 and 2022 was due to the damage caused by supertyphoon Rolly.
“We expect abaca production in the province to recover by the first quarter of 2023,” he said.
A check of the actual fiber production shows that the fiber harvests per town has been on the decline since 2018, except for Panganiban and Bagamanoc in 2019 when both had an increase in production.
In 2020, fiber output fell by an almost even 17 percent in all towns, including the six southern towns ravaged by Rolly, and slid further by an average of eight percent again in all towns in 2021.