Stakeholders propose measures vs. low price, quality of abaca fiber

Stakeholders from abaca-producing provinces, traders and government agencies have recommended several priority measures to address issues hounding the abaca industry including the low buying price and low quality of abaca fibers.

The recommendations were the output of the Abaca National Stakeholders’ Dialogue held May 30-June 1, 2023 at the E-Crown Hotel and Resort that was aimed at strengthening and boosting abaca production.

In its report, the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) identified substandard abaca fiber as one of the challenges being faced by the industry.

It said this is due to mixing or adulteration of spurious or fake fibers like Daratex, pacol, banana or agutay into abaca fiber; misclassification of daratex fiber as abaca fiber; misdeclaration and/or mixing of district of production; contamination with foreign matter like plastic, soil or stone; immature fiber due to pojada system of harvesting; Laguras fiber; and misgraded abaca fiber.

The agency also mentioned the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ shifting from the paper bill with 20% abaca fiber content to a polymer or plastic currency bill and the changing of the P20 bill to coin that resulted in a 50% reduction in PSPI pulp demand.

Likewise, diseases such as Abaca Bunchy Top, Abaca Mosaic Disease, and Abaca Bract Mosaic continue to infect vast abaca farmlands.

Ordinances passed to ban the harvesting of matured and young abaca plants for “bakbak” have not been fully implemented by local government units, the PhilFIDA observed, while the Pojada system continues to reduce farm yield aside from spreading diseases through mechanical means.

On the other hand, the declining buying price of abaca fiber was blamed on substandard quality of fiber, low demand from foreign markets due to the high cost of logistics and war in Europe, lack of fiber required by domestic end-users, and dumped abaca fiber.

The agency cited the production and online distribution of not true-to-type abaca planting materials, including suckers and corms of daratex.

In the same dialogue, it was disclosed that the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has drafted a joint memorandum circular on the creation of a task force to monitor abaca-related malpractices in the implementation of standards and regulations.

The draft MC, which will apply to all abaca producing LGUs, is still undergoing review by the legal personnel of both agencies.

In her report on market trends and prospects, PhilFIDA OIC-Regional Director Mary Anne Molina said that the Philippines continues to produce the lion’s share of abace fiber in the world, accounting for over 85% of the market share and earning a total of US178 million from fiber exports.

The area planted to abaca slightly rose to 162,508 hectares in 2022, with the Bicol region topping the list with 55,836 hectares and Catanduanes number one in the country with 22,273 hectares.

Abaca production, however, is has been on the downtrend since 2018, with the 2022 figure of 63,641 metric tons representing a decrease of about 17% over five years.

OIC-RD Molina also bared that the Philippines imported a total of 26,000 metric tons of abaca fiber over the same period, paying an average of US$2.71 or about P149 per kilo at the current exchange rate.

The agency projects fiber production to increase to 68,822 metric tons by 2027, with nearly 22,000 MT for export.

Workshops conducted by two groups on production and processing as well as marketing and promotion came up with priority recommendations to address the industry challenges.

On the low-quality abaca fibers, it was recommended that PhilFIDA and LGUs provide trainings on the primary segregation of fiber grades, information on the difference between genuine abaca and spurious fibers and conduct of soil analysis, and the provision of livelihood trainings from July to December 2023.

On the poor implementation of existing ordinances, the DILG will issue memorandum circulars directing LGUs down to the barangays to support the implementation of the measures.

PhilFIDA was also told to establish abaca model farms in three priority areas to demonstrate a concrete return on investment in abaca production.

The marketing and promotion group urged the agency, LGUs and other stakeholders to address the low buying price of abaca by establishing a buying station, form or cluster cooperatives or associations, provide logistic and marketing assistance, and intensify trainings.

It likewise recommended value-added trainings for other possible uses of abaca and promote alternative uses while financing institutions should provide soft loans to abaca associations.

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