The abaca coalition assembled the stakeholders of the country’s abaca industry in the first-ever Abaca Summit, which was held in Sogod, Southern Leyte late in 2015, in an effort to address the different concerns that hound the sector.

By Julio P. Yap, Jr.

A Venue for Tackling Issues

The Southern Leyte State University (SLSU), a member of the Abaca Coalition, hosted the two-day summit, which was attended by the Sogod abaca farmers, representatives from various government line agencies, regional government offices, national and local academic institutions, local government units (LGUs), and the private sector.

The summit provided a venue for the stakeholders to tackle pressing issues that hinder the country’s abaca industry amid the effects of climate change and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) integration, among other challenges.

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Being a member of the Coalition, the Worldfish Organization, an international research group, which harnesses fisheries and aquaculture to reduce hunger and poverty, spearheaded the summit in consonance with its Aquatic Agricultural Systems (AAS) program.

Other members of the Abaca Coalition include state colleges and universities, government research institutions, private organizations, municipal and barangay government units, and the media.

A Guiding Mission and Goal

The mission of the Coalition is to develop an integrated action plan for advancing the abaca sector in Region 8, and develop it into a manifesto which will be submitted for legislation. Based on the identified priority issues which came out during the summit, the Coalition—with with the help of the Sogod abaca farmers, representatives from the abaca fiber and pulp industry, and concerned government agencies—developed the joint action plan.

The proposed plan covers the establishment of barangay nurseries, setting up an integrated disease management scheme, production of tissue-cultured planting materials, development of an incentive-based expansion of the planting areas – especially those within the forest cover, providing training sessions for the farmers on fiber quality, and developing a baseline for the abaca farms which will become a support system for decision-making.

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Some of the processed abaca fibers which were presented during the summit.

Taking into consideration these efforts, the members of the Abaca Coalition expect to have at least one hundred hectares of land in Region 8 which will be planted to abaca within a period of one year.

It was learned that about 50 hectares of these plantations are expected to be sustainably certified because certification for sustainability of the abaca plantation is a requirement in foreign trade.

Considered an economically important crop which is indigenous to the Philippines, abaca is the lifeblood of more than 200,000 farming families from 56 abaca growing provinces in the country. There is a high demand for it as raw material for textiles, handicrafts, specialty papers, and just recently, for dashboards and car interiors, among other products.

Although the country has maintained its stature as the biggest supplier of abaca products in the world market, local abaca production has declined over the past years due to several constraints.

These include the lack of high-yielding and virusresistant planting materials and prevalence of pest and diseases, most notorious of which is the abaca bunchy top virus (ABTV).

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Important Interventions

The summit also became the venue for the turnover of several stripping machines for the useof the abaca farmers in the barangaysof Maac, Mahayahay, Javier, and Maria Plana in Sogod, Southern Leyte. The machine was designed and developed by the National Abaca Research Center, which is based at the Visayas State University (VSU) in Baybay,
Leyte.

The four units of stripping machines were purchased through a research and development grant from the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD). The PCAARRD said that with the use of the machine, four persons can harvest one hectare of abaca in just seven to eight days.

Weighing only 93 kilograms, it can be easily dismantled and carried to areas not accessible by transportation. The machine can strip various native abaca varieties by replacing stripping blades for variable quality, recovery, and output.

The government, through the DOST-PCAARRD and its partners, is pushing several science and technology (S&T) interventions to address the poor technology adoption of farmers. Most notable of these interventions is the Industry Strategic S&T Plan (ISP) for abaca.

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Moving Forward

Having originated from the dreams of the Sogod farmers in rehabilitating the abaca farms in Maac and Mahayahay as an additional source of livelihood, the abaca project expanded to include Maria Plana and Javier, two other barangays in Sogod.

A mini exhibit featuring local products, which make use of abaca fiber, abaca yarn, abaca wastes, and reject fibers, was set up during the summit. The products included utility boxes, gift boxes, tables, bags, and other products made out of abaca.

The Abaca Summit concluded with coalition members and various stakeholders signing a pledge of commitment for the advancement of the abaca industry in the country with the theme “Hayag ang ugma ta diha sa abaka” (We will have a brighter future with abaca).

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2016 issue.