3,000 MT in “loose” fiber went unrecorded:

Abaca fiber production here declines for 5th straight year

Records of the Philippine Fiber Development Authority (PhilFIDA) show that abaca fiber production in the province of Catanduanes in 2022 fell for the 5th straight year to its lowest in a decade.

At just 103,285.60 bales, the 2022 total is nearly 40 percent less than the 171,211.5 bales recorded in 2014 as the island’s highest output in the last 10 years.

It is likewise eight percent lower than the 112,956.30 bales produced by 13,000 abaca farmers in 2021.

Still, Catanduanes maintained its place as the top abaca producing province in Bicol, accounting for 83 percent of the total 124,166.40 bales last year.

As the abaca capital of the Philippines, the province maintained its dominance in the market with nearly 24 percent of the total 431,548.9 bales produced in 2022.

PhilFIDA Catanduanes Provincial Fiber Officer Bert Lusuegro told the Tribune last week that the actual fiber production that year should have been higher.

In the report of the regional office on fiber statistics for 2022, Catanduanes produced a total of 15,189.06 metric tons, about 8.5 percent less than the previous year but still 80 percent of Bicol’s total.

He claimed that about 3,000 metric tons of fiber were shipped out of the island without the traders passing by the PhilFIDA office to get the required Permit to Transport Fiber (PTF).

Some of the so-called loose fiber may been reported as coming from Catanduanes but most are declared as sourced from Albay, he added.

Lusuegro lamented that due to lack of personnel, PhilFIDA has no presence or representative in the island’s ports where the fiber is usually loaded on ferries and cargo ships.

To address this, the agency is planning to ink a memorandum of understanding with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) not to allow shipments of fiber into the ports without an approved transport permit.

He likewise expressed optimism that local fiber production is bound for recovery after the devastation wrought by super typhoon Rolly in 2020.

Lusuegro’s statement is backed by the 30 percent increase in Catanduanes abaca fiber output for the first two months of 2023.

PhilFIDA statistics show that from January to February this year, the province produced a total of 18,024 bales of abaca fiber, which is considerably more than the 13,881 recorded for the same period last year.

Recently, some 3,000 abaca farmers began receiving about P5,000 each from the provincial government and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) under the latter’s P19-million Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) emergency employment program for abaca farmers in Catanduanes.

The beneficiaries were required to work for 15 days at a minimum salary of P365 per day, clearing of forest debris and underbrush and planting abaca trees in their farms and plantations.

They were also provided with safety and health and basic first aid management as well as complete personal protective equipment and enrolment with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

The TUPAD project is expected to help abaca plantations fully recover and contribute to increased harvest by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, PFO Lusuegro stated that of the island’s total fiber production, about 80 percent went to pulp and paper production while most of the remaining 20 percent were delivered to cordage companies.

Of Bicol’s 2022 fiber harvest, 89 percent were used by pulp and paper firms, with 10 percent going to cordage and just one percent for fibercraft.

In Catanduanes, only about 5 percent or even less are consumed by local processors, he disclosed.

PhilFIDA records show that there are only three local abaca processors registered with the Catanduanes office: Elsie Cabrera of Calatagan Proper, Virac, who is engaged in handicraft; L. Rodriguez Abaca Trading in Cabugao, Bato, which deals in semi-finished abaca bakbak and rope; and Cabrera’s daughter Judith who is based in San Pedro, Gigmoto.

The others reportedly went out of business during the pandemic, including the maker of abaca facemasks in Virac and the abaca carpet maker in San Andres, both of whom no longer renewed their license with PhilFIDA.

Lusuegro, however, said that a number of existing abaca processors registered with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) provincial office have yet to secure their licenses with PhilFIDA.

He added that majority of the fiber produced by local farmers belong to the G, I, JK and S3 variety, with the top quality S2 almost negligible.

But this lack of S2 output would change soon with the completion of the Abaca Tuxy-Buying Special Project (ABTSP) facility in Caramoran before the end of 2023.

Aimed at capacitating farmers’ cooperative in the production of quality abaca fibers through mechanized fiber extraction and marketing of fibers into institutional and foreign buyers, the P25 million project is being built in barangay Panique by a contractor of PhilFIDA.

The Caramoran Abaca Farmers Producers Cooperative, composed of 100 abaca farmers, has committed at least 100 hectares of adjoining farms to supply the daily requirement of abaca tuxies.

Of the three buildings under the project, the trading/office building and warehouse have been completed while the stripping and processing center has yet to be finished.

Lusuegro said the delay was caused by bad weather during the first two months of the year, with the local government of Caramoran unable to clear the construction site as its counterpart in the project.

The building will house the 10 spindle machines that would, in tandem, strip the tuxy into high grade S2 fiber intended for the pulp and handicraft industry.

The machines have already been delivered, along with the baling press, cargo truck and eight (8) motorcycles.

PhilFIDA has also transferred P2.7 million to the cooperative as budget for the operation of the ATBSP Center while the project also included the purchase of a hardware and software application costing P449,000.00.

For decades now, the provincial government has been trying to convince local farmers to shift to mechanized stripping.

But the effort has failed, with the machines bought or distributed to farmers organizations remaining idle and falling into deterioration.

Several of the now dilapidated and rusting machines  at the Provincial Capitol have been put up for public auction along with other unserviceable properties and equipment.

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