Saturday, February 20, 2016

Catanduanes seeks abaca processing plant to add value to top local product
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Feb. 17 (PNA) -- Several quarters are seeking the establishment of abaca processing plants in Catanduanes that is seen to add value to the crop that has given the island-province the glory of being its top producer in the country.

Abaca is not just for fiber as its by-products like pulp can be processed into paper and the plant’s enzyme, to fertilizer and soap, said former Catanduanes governor Hector Sanchez who is spearheading the call for investors in putting up industrial facilities.

He said the plant’s stalk produces fiber, known worldwide since time immemorial as Manila hemp and used largely not only as cordage, ropes and twines but also handicraft products, garments, textile, packaging materials, plaything for pets and sports paraphernalia.

The same is also used in weaving sinamay which is of less gossamer tissue, but almost transparent and far more durable than the fabrics made from pineapple fiber, making it more preferable in the crafting of gift boxes, wall covering, draperies, footwear and many more sophisticated handicrafts.

Abaca fibers are also made into pulp used as raw material in the production of currency and bank notes, tea bags, coffee filters, meat casings, coating for pills, surgical caps and masks, high capacitor papers, cable insulation papers, restoration and conservation of historical documents, strengthening material for napkins and tissue paper and insulation for computer chips.

On the other hand, the dried outer leaf sheath of abaca plant is source of “bacbac”, also called havana skin, used in making handicraft and decorative items as well as furniture, among other highly salable goods.

The abaca “lupis” coming from the third and fourth layers of the sheath is used in making decorative, fashion and table-top accessories and also furniture while the waste after stripping fiber from the stalk can be used as growing medium for mushroom culture, raw material for hand-made paper making, organic fertilizer, alcohol, waxes and panel boards.

Likewise, latest industrial technologies have also been making way into the commercial production of organic fertilizer from abaca enzymes in the Philippines, the first and only abaca-based fertilizer and natural insect repellent in the world.

Abaca enzyme is a conditioner that rapidly stabilizes the soil’s pH (measure of acidity or alkalinity) to ensure maximum nutrient absorption and enhance palay growth.

There is also now the abaca soap that comes from Philippine abaca enzyme and proven good for regeneration of stressed and irritated skin.

According to studies, the enzyme further revitalizes and strengthens the skin and the abaca soap that contains it and wrapped in handmade abaca paper is now in the world market, finding its way to European spas.

“Our abaca is getting into a wider market not only because of its fiber and pulp but also of its extract called enzyme that is why we want our plantations given utmost care and attention. One way of protecting our abaca is doing away with cutting of trees that provide shades to the plantation,” Sanchez said.

Abaca corms, meanwhile, serve not only as planting materials but also its remaining portion considered by farmers as waste can be used in the production of starch for industrial purposes and the seeds of the plant’s fruit, based on results of bio-chemistry and nutritional analysis, have oil that could serve many beneficial uses and benefits when introduced into commerce.

The former governor, who said he owns about 1,600 hectares of land in Catanduanes, added that anywhere across the globe, abaca products are recognized for their versatility and what is needed to maximize the province’s economic benefit from it is processing facilities so that the locality does not only rely on the traditional fiber production but also on industrialization.

The province, occupying an island sitting off the northeastern side of the Bicol Peninsula and separated from the mainland by Maqueda Bay, has a total of over 35,500 hectares abaca plantations cultivated by 15,454 farmers, producing an average of 19,000 metric tons of fiber yearly, representing 33.2 percent of the total national production.

This makes abaca its backbone industry that has made the island -- known as the first landmass to be kissed by the waves of the Pacific Ocean, making it highly exposed to tropical cyclones hitting the country’s eastern seaboard -- a prized contributor to the country’s fiber export earnings.

In 2012 alone, the country posted an amount of US$ 120 million in abaca export earnings or an over Php5 billion, on the back of increased demand for abaca pulp and cordage in the Philippines’ major markets, according to records of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA).

The development of new end-use for abaca fiber in composite applications for the automotive industry in Germany contributed to boost the demand for the fiber.

Car manufacturer Chrysler-Daimler has cited the superb ecological balance of abaca combined with its excellent technical properties similar to those of glass fiber, the material previously used in the underbody protection of cars.

Likewise, with the stricter policies against dumping of synthetic fishnets and cordage materials in open sea as enforced by most European nations, users are returning to the use of natural biodegradable materials like abaca fiber.

As the environmental protection movement heightens, many countries are becoming more protective of their ecology, particularly the timber forest, the source of wood pulp which is the traditional material for pulp and paper production.

Called a smart crop, owing to abaca plants’ resistance to typhoons and drought, it serves as the top agricultural commodity of Catanduanes that keeps the local economy alive from the farm gate down to traders’ receipts, providing stable employment, livelihood and business opportunities that lead to the province’s lower poverty rate compared to other Bicol areas.

In its latest poverty incidence report, the Philippine Statistics Authority placed Catanduanes’ poverty rate at 27.1 percent, the second lowest next to Camarines Norte’s 24.7 percent, among Bicols’ six provinces—topped by Masbate at 44.2 percent; followed by Albay, 36.1 percent; Camarines Sur, 33.5 percent; and Sorsogon, 32.1 percent.

In a separate statement, Catanduanes Vice-Governor Jose Teves Jr. said he strongly supports the idea of giving way to investors in the further industrialization of the province’s abaca production that would benefit the sector of marginal farmers as well as open job opportunities for the local workforce. (PNA) BNB/FGS/DOC/cbd