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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Abaca industry in ZamPen booming

by Michael Vincent D. Cajulao

Region 9 is now becoming one of the major abaca producers in the country as production and interest from farmers to plant continue to improve.

Fiber Industry Development Authority 9 Regional Director Olimpio Macarayan said their agency has noted an increasing trend in the production of abaca from 2010 to 2011, and even in the first half of this year.

In a comparative data released by FIDA-9, last year’s regional production reached 3,236,431.20 kilograms compared to the 2,647,328.1 kilograms in 2010.

Dir. Macarayan said the figures include production from Sulu, where most of the bulk comes from.

“Although Sulu is an ARMM province, it is still under the jurisdiction of our office. It is actually the biggest producer for region 9, followed by Zamboanga Sibugay”, Macarayan said.

“We even noted a high rate of production from January to May this year. It’s really very promising”, he added.

Macarayan also pointed that the industry in the region has improved as more and more famers venture into abaca propagation.

“The status of our abaca industry is booming. There are now many farmers who want to plant abaca and it’s a very good sign”, he said.

The shift of interest of farmers to abaca is credited to its shorter maturity period compared to other high value crops like rubber, where region 9 also excels.

“Farmers can harvest abaca within 18 months to two years. After that, they can harvest every 3 to 4 months in one year”, Dir. Macarayan said.

However, FIDA said in as much as many farmers would want to plant abaca, the lack of capital of small famers has somehow affected the full take off of the abaca industry.

“There are many farmers who really want to plant abaca, but the problem is the lack of capital of our small farmers”, he explained.

According to Macarayan, FIDA has come up with assistance program to help these farmers start with their venture.

“Before, we tried to help them by providing them with planting materials. But it’s very limited. We can only give 1,000 seed pieces per individual. Although we give cooperatives seed pieces good for about 5 hectares. But with the help of the Department of Agriculture, under its High Value Commercial Crops Development Program, we were granted an initial P1 M for the procurement and distribution of abaca planting materials, and the establishment of open-type nurseries, after we submitted a proposal, as this is a proposal-based assistance”, Macarayan explained.

He said they have already started with the project although they have yet to fully implement it.

Seeing the vast potential of the industry, Macarayan said DA Sec. Proceso J. Alcala has again granted FIDA 9 another P9 M for the expansion of their proposed project.

Macarayan said the grant is not only to help expand abaca industry here but also it is part of the National Greening Program of the national government. This program also encourages the planting of rubber trees where it is suited. The expansion program will be implemented next year.

Macarayan, however, said the farmers’ problems do not end there. He said the biggest problems of abaca farmers are disease infestation and the lack of harvesting equipments.

He said they are implementing measures to prevent the entry of diseases through the use of insecticides. In case the disease has already infected the crops, Macarayan said the only way to stop its spread is to remove all infected plants or poison those with herbicide, killing the plants and the cause of the disease.

Macarayan also pointed that most farmers cannot afford to buy stripping machines.

“Unfortunately, FIDA has no budget for this. As of the moment, we depend on grants from financing institutions, other government agencies, and political leaders like our congressmen and the LGU executives. We have the technology, but we do not have the resources to produce the machines and distribute it to our farmers”, he said.

It is this problem that makes the farmers vulnerable to unscrupulous people, Macarayan said.

“Since they can’t afford the machines, they resort to custom harvesting where third party groups do the harvesting for them. However, there are some of these who employ wrong method of harvesting, affecting young abaca plants not yet due for harvest. This practice results in a poor quality of fiber and low pulping recovery, and it doesn’t stop there. Some of these custom harvesters ask for a 60/40 sharing, with the 60% going to them. Worse, they also act as buyers of the farmers’ produce, buying them at a very low price”.

To counter this exploitation, FIDA launched massive information dissemination among farmers against this practice. Macarayan also said they are now trying their best to provide machines for abaca associations or cooperatives to lessen their burden.

Macarayan pointed that the national government is really pushing for the improvement of the abaca industry as the country can monopolize abaca trade all over the globe.

“Abaca is endemic only to the Philippines. We are the only natural producer of it in the entire world. The only other country producing abaca is Ecuador, and it’s not even native there. The specie from Ecuador came from Davao. It was brought there by a Japanese abaca grower who once owned a farm in Davao. If we can improve this industry, think of the big markets that will depend on us”, he stressed.

Macarayan said the country’s major markets are Japan, Europe, India, United States, the Middle East, and Korea. He however, said the biggest emerging market for abaca is China.

As of the moment, 85% of the world production comes from the Philippines, with region 9 contributing 15% to the total national production. Macarayan, however, is optimistic that the region’s share can increase up to 20% within two years.

“With the help of the Department of Agriculture on the expansion of abaca industry, we can easily achieve our target of 20% within the next two years. It’s very achievable”, Macarayan stressed.

He also said that the unique qualities of the region have produced pure, unadulterated abaca fiber.

“We are very lucky here in Zamboanga Peninsula because we have prolific variety of abaca due to the fact that our soil here is fertile and suitable for any abaca variety, and also the suitable micro-climate condition”, he said.
Macarayan challenged abaca farmers to produce quality products and they should also think of the sustainability of the industry.

“Farmers and harvesters should strictly follow the good agricultural practices for abaca so that sustainability will prevail, and that the standard of living of the farmers will also be uplifted. We achieve this, then we can command higher price for our product because we are sure that we have the highest quality”, he ended. (MVC/PIA9-ZBST)