Bicol Region Brings Back Glory of Abaca Industry

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LEGAZPI CITY: The Bicol region is bringing back the glory of its Abaca industry after the region was spared from strong typhoons during the past few years, making it the top producer of the commodity in the country.

According to Mary Anne Molina, officer-in-charge Director of Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA) in the Bicol region, Abaca, which is known internationally as Manila hemp, is one of the indigenous crops found in the region accounting for 32 percent of total Abaca output across the country.

“Bicol regained the glory of Abaca industry and top producer of Abaca accounting for almost 32 percent output production for past eight-month period,” she said.

Eastern Visayas is the second top producer of Abaca though the region’s output declined by almost 3 percent, while the third highest producer is Davao which registered a 32.7-percent growth year-on-year.

About 50,212 hectares of Abaca farms in the Bicol region are being cultivated by 21,124 farmers. Abaca fiber is considered the strongest among natural fibers and the products derived from Abaca are export champions.

The Philippines is the world’s leading producer of Abaca fiber with the United States and Germany as the leading markets, Molina said.

Abaca is mainly grown in Bicol and Eastern Visayas regions.

Fashionable too

To uplift and level-off internationally the Abaca industry in the Bicol region, the Regional Development Council (RDC) in the area under the leadership of Gov. Joey Salceda of Albay instituted the Pinukpok fashion show, mandating the region’s chief executives and heads of various government agencies to showcase the couture collections of Bicolano designers like Willy de Legazpi.

Salceda kicked off the Albay Pinukpok Fashion show for a Cause in June 2010 to exhibit the elegance of the unique fabric made out of Bicol’s indigenous golden fiber. The provincial government also poured in funds to help a women’s cooperative doing Pinukpok fabric products in the region.

 Weavers of the women’s cooperative were trained on scouring, bleaching, drying, natural dye extraction, advanced weaving and application on Abaca textile through the assistance of Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Commercial fabric production was introduced in the Bicol region in 1996 by DOST, when the agency assisted the community-based cooperative in Baras, Catanduanes through its Philippine Textile Research Institute.

Abaca, considered the strongest natural fiber in the world, can match the durability of synthetic fibers. Abaca fiber was originally used for ship rigging and other heavy-duty industrial applications.

Because of Abaca’s socioeconomic impact on many Filipinos, the Industrial Technology Development Institute, also an agency under the DOST, continues to encourage activities to strengthen the Abaca industry.

The country supplies more than half of the world’s demand for Abaca.

Abaca fabrics have gained popularity abroad as a packaging material. The growing concern for environmental protection and forest conservation the world over has provided more opportunities for natural fiber like Abaca.

It is expected that demand for Abaca would be long-term from the growing popularity of environment-friendly materials, especially in developed countries. According to FIDA, the most important factor in the industry’s development is the European market, which buys more than half of the country’s Abaca exports.

 Abaca is also used for the manufacture of currency notes, security papers and specialty papers for tea bags, sausage casings, cigarette papers, plug wrap filters and among others. Specialty papers account for more than 80 percent of the global Abaca consumption.