Abaca farmers need more than aid from the government

To most Catandunganons whose knowledge of the abaca industry is limited to the seemingly endless line of fiber drying along the highway in northern towns, the 12,000-plus individuals who consider themselves “parahagot” remain faceless.

Despite the limited efforts of both the national and local government to improve their lot, they remain mired in an interminable cycle of poverty, except for those who were fortunate enough to learn how to use their earnings judiciously.

Most of them come down from the abaca farms in the mountains with what they could carry on their heads and shoulders, fiber which they would first dry before bringing them to the trader to sell at the prevailing price per kilo.

The trader deducts the “resiko” – for the moisture content of fiber – further leaving the abaca stripper with even less income from the week’s toil.

He then deducts the “good for” – payment for rice and goods bought on credit a week earlier – and gives whatever is left to the “parahagot.”

Before he leaves for home, again he borrows rice, canned goods and other necessities his family needs from the trader, starting another cycle of borrowing and repayment that many “abacaleros” find themselves in year after year.

To be fair, the government, including the LGUs, have provided assistance to the abaca farmers in the past, including the provision of abaca stripping machines that were supposed to allow the farmers to harvest finer and more expensive fiber.

But this has not apparently worked, with the abacaleros preferring to strip the cheaper fiber that they could harvest with relatively little effort.

Recently, the provincial government put up for auction sale several of the abaca stripping machines, dilapidated and reduced to junk by lack of use.

The Provincial Fiber Development Authority (PhilFIDA) took a new tack, promising farmers more income through the Abaca Tuxy-Buying Special Project (ABTSP), with a facility now nearing completion in Caramoran town.

Under the scheme, members of an abaca farmers cooperative are supposed to deliver abaca tuxy for stripping into high quality S2 fiber at the 10 spindle machines at the P25 million facility.

But this auspicious development is dimmed by a recent report that abaca fiber production in Catanduanes in 2022 has slipped to its lowest in a decade.

The 103,285.60 bale-harvest last year is nearly 40 percent less than the 171,211.5 recorded in 2014, our abaca farmers’ highest output in the past 10 years.

And less than five percent of the output are consumed by local fiber processors, PhilFIDA said.

The loss in production and subsequently abaca farmer’s income cannot be addressed by the P5,000 received by some 3,000 farmers under the P19-million Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) recently.

Clearly, the government has to think of and implement programs better suited to the needs of Catanduanes abaca farmers, from a more comprehensive and adequately funded Abaca Disease Management Program (ADMP) to financial assistance to typhoon victims among them (losing one’s abaca farm is a real calamity) that will not take two years to realize.

The PhilFIDA, with the assistance of the Provincial Agricultural Support Office (PASO), is now in the midst of completing the results of a demographic survey of the island’s more than 12,000 abaca farmers.

Let us hope that the survey results would lead to a better future for abaca farmers, without whom the Happy Island would lose its identity as the Abaca Capital of the Philippines in a few decades should the current slide in fiber production continue.

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