Abaca fiber can be found in native products such as footwear and hand-loomed bags. It is used for medical and industrial applications, such as in orthopedic materials, and its composites are used in making glass fibers for vehicles, paper, and ropes. These are just a few of its applications.

By Renelle Yebron, The PCAARRD Monitor

Fibers from abaca (Musa textilis Nee) are considered to be among the strongest natural fibers in the world. The Philippines supplies about 85% of the global demand for abaca fibers, which continues to grow in both the local and foreign markets. But though the abaca industry has long been established, farm productivity and fiber quality have been generally low. Specifically, the industry’s constraints include a limited supply of high-yielding varieties, losses due to the spread of pests and diseases, and limited technologies for new products.

Addressing these problems would increase farm productivity; farmers’ incomes will also increase as a result. Hence, the Abaca Industry Strategic S&T Program (ISP) of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) aims to increase annual fiber yield by 128% from 0.53 metric tons per hectare (mt/ha) to 1.2 mt/ha, significantly increasing the production of quality planting materials/hybrids and the area for the abaca rehabilitation program, increase revenue from high-end or high-value products, and finally, increase annual farmers’ incomes with improved farm productivity.

Within the last three years of Abaca ISP implementation, the program has already produced 2,512,597 high quality and bunchy-top resistant plantlets for field testing and demonstration in ten major abaca-producing provinces; developed 1,000 dipsticks for abaca bunchy top virus (ABTV) detection; improved the ABTV diagnostic/detection kit for pilot testing; and identified molecular markers for ABTV resistance.

For the downstream processing initiatives, bench-scale production of packaging paper and currency base paper has been conducted under the program. It has produced spun yarns of the hybrid, which will soon be made into fabric; extracted nanocrystalline cellulose; prepared microfibrillated cellulose; and tested grafted adsorbents for adsorption capacities.

On capacity-building, training sessions/workshops on abaca tissue culture, proper hands-on management of tissue culture-derived abaca hybrids, and virus detection, indexing, and agronomic data collection have been conducted. Moreover, eight state universities and colleges’ (SUCs) tissue culture laboratories for abaca hybrid propagation were upgraded and renovated.

Four publications comprised of two papers have been presented in scientific conferences, and one brochure and two posters have been produced. There is also an ongoing application for plant variety protection of abaca ‘Bandala,’ a bunchy top-resistant variety.

With the ongoing and future initiatives in the Abaca ISP, the PCAARRD will continue to provide support for the creation of more benefits, primarily for farmers, towards a thriving global-class Filipino-led abaca industry. 

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2017 issue.