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Abaca needs help

SLT 1248

January 20-26, 2024

SOUTHERN LEYTE – Years back the abaca industry was vibrant in Eastern Visayas, and more so in Southern Leyte. Abaca was one major crop and a major source of employment and income for Southern Leyteños, specifically in Maasin and Sogod. The abaca varieties found in the province include Laylay, Inosa, Linawaan, Linlay, Putian, Laguis, Linlib and Linino.
Markets of Southern Leyte abaca fiber included buyers from the European market like the United Kingdom, which contributed to the reason why many ships use the Maasin port. The local abaca handicrafts processors in the province, the pulp, paper and cordage factories in Manila, Cebu, Iligan, and Bicol also purchased the province’ abaca fiber.
However, the bunchy top virus started to infest abaca farms in 2000, killing about 80% of the abaca plants.
In September 2016, the Department of Agriculture, PhilFIDA and the local government of Sogod under Mayor Imelda Tan launched the Sogod Opportunities for Abaca Rehabilitation (SOAR) Project. Under the 3-Year P100-million SOAR Project, farmers will be provided with planting materials including abaca suckers and fertilizers (organic and inorganic), and budget to clean up their farms in preparation for planting.
Seventeen months after the kick-off, with a reported initial fund release of P50 million, a total of 740 hectares of land in Sogod have been planted with healthy abaca plants. Municipal Agriculture Office Chief Julito Abihay, in a phone interview said that as of this wrting 3 abaca nurseries in Bontoc, Concepcion and Salvacion, Sogod have been established. And approximately 3,000 hectares of land in Sogod have been planted with abaca. The abaca plants have also recovered one year after typhoon Odette.
Meanwhile, twenty villages in Maasin are abaca producers selling dried fiber to a processing plant in Baybay City, according to Maasin City Mayor National V. Mercado.
In 2019, the villages of Lonoy, Cabadiangan, and Pinaskuhan have established their own abaca nurseries to revive the industry.
Then in 2021, the Provincial Government started the implementation of Coconut-based abaca production in 9 local government units (LGUs) for 93,796 abaca suckers to be planted. Unfortunately, 23,100 newly-delivered suckers intended for planting in 7 LGUs were destroyed during the onslaught of Typhoon Odette in December 16, 2021.
In 2022, the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) and the provincial government collaborated to plant 40,000 abaca suckers in 15 abaca nurseries in 11 LGUs in order to propagate disease-free abaca suckers for massive distribution to interested farmers in the province.
As a continuing effort, the Abaca Coalition of Eastern Visayas members consisting of LGUs, state universities and colleges, farmer groups, and industry players convened in a summit on October 26 to 27, 2023 at Ormoc City to discuss how to revive the once-vibrant abaca industry, anchored on House Bill No. HBO2707 that promotes abaca development research projects and appropriating funds for these.
In the summit, the identified problems were the lack of extension personnel, poor market roads, and lack of disease-resistant abaca planting materials. The VSU National Abaca Research Center (NARC) answered that they are already producing good-quality and disease-free tissue-cultured abaca planting materials; ready for purchase. NARC also has an Integrated Abaca Extension Program that visits different municipalities for conduct of training and seminars about abaca farming.
The PhilFIDA conducted a comprehensive monitoring and site inspection in the provinces of Southern Leyte and Leyte on November 28 to December 01, 2023. The primary objective was to assess the compliance of twenty-eight licensed traders, processors, and grading & baling establishments with PhilFIDA’s policies, rules, and regulations concerning fiber trading and grading baling standards within the region.
Among the 28 establishments inspected, 78.57% demonstrated full compliance with the policies, rules, and regulations set by PhilFIDA. However, some establishments were non-compliant.
Southern Leyte Abaca Coalition Representative Engr. Feliciano Malaki, Jr. and MAO Julito Abihay reported that according to recent feedbacks from the farmers and traders, fiber harvested from abaca seed-derived plants do not have the same strength as the sucker and corm derived abaca plants. Thus, posing some issues. Other problems faced are: licensed processors expressed concerns about the diminishing number of weavers, while some sinamay processors specifically highlighted worries about the market for their products.

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