By Jason B. Neola
VIRAC, Catanduanes --- There are two things that would make abaca farmers here in high spirits. First, the gargantuan funds that the national government will put in its annual budget to strengthen the industry. Second, their transformation into a strong and cohesive group capable of marketing their products without the interference of middle men.
This was revealed by Executive Director Kennedy T. Costales of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) in an exclusive interview with Bicol Mail during the celebration of the 3rd Abaca Festival held last May 25, this year.
Costales said around P132M will be poured in the national budget next year. The funds are to be spent in the rehabilitation and expansion of abaca farms operated by abaca farmers’ cooperatives in various regions across the country.
Aside from the multimillion-peso project, PhilFIDA is also allocating a P5.63 billion modernization fund aimed at tripling the country’s abaca output to more than 220,000 metric tons in the next 4 or five years.
In his message during the Farmers Day celebration, Costales urged the abaca growers to organize themselves into cooperatives “so that all the support and assistance under the government’s agenda to revitalize the industry can be easily and expeditiously extended.”
“Mas maganda kung i-organize nila ang kanilang sarili into a coop para maging mabilis at madali ang pag-extend ng anumang tulong at suporta,” Costales said.
Gov. Joseph Cua, who was informed by Costales that 36% of abaca in the world market is being sourced from this island province, disclosed that he was able to secure P50M from the Department of Agriculture (DA), which the provincial government has been spending to rehabilitate abaca farms that were damaged by typhoon Nina when it hit Bicol two years ago.
The provincial government and PhilFIDA’s provincial office here are promoting the use of mechanized stripping machine among abaca farmers in the hope that it can increase the production volume and command higher price in the market. Products processed under the traditional method are being sold at P70 per kilo while those products that have gone through mechanized stripping are prized at P120/kilo.
Costales said the government intends to expand abaca farms to more than 239,000 hectares from the present 180,000 hectares as PhilFida is tasked to expand abaca plantations by around 39,364 hectares for 2018; 10,000 and 9,000 hectares in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
The agency is also eyeing to rehabilitate 50,000 hectares of abaca farms in 4 to 5 years: 30,000 hectares in 2018; 10,000 and 10,000 hectares in 2019 and in 2020, respectively.
PhilFIDA, as an attached agency of DA would also expand plantations in the Bicol Region and Eastern Visayas—the top abaca-producing regions in the Philippines as it will also rehabilitate 89,558 hectares of abaca growing-areas in the Bicol region and 19,214 hectares in Eastern Visayas.
“Extensive abaca expansion and rehabilitation efforts will be undertaken from 2018 to 2019 to meet the targeted 239,666 hectares of total abaca areas by 2022. Bulk of the expansion and rehabilitation activities will be conducted in the Bicol Region, Region 8 and in the regions of Mindanao, the PhilFIDA official said.
The Philippine Abaca Roadmap indicated that the rehabilitation and expansion of abaca plantations would increase output to 76,385 metric tons this year and the succeeding years.
The annual abaca output of the Philippines is pegged at 72,734.71 MT, according to the document.
“In terms of targets, a total of 69,364 hectares in 2018 and 44,167 hectares in 2019 will be planted to reach an estimated total abaca fiber demand of 160,444 MT in 2020 with an increase of 12 percent annually. Corporations and farmers have committed to plant abaca in more areas depending on the availability of planting materials,” the document said.
“By 2022, with the targeted farm expansion and rehabilitation of 146,248 hectares, an estimated fiber production of 216,761 MT will be attained,” it added.
The PhilFIDA provincial office here also plans to establish more nurseries in the region and encourage local nursery operators and local government units to go into the production of abaca seedlings.
These interventions are to be implemented with an end view of allowing the Philippines to maintain its status as the world’s top abaca producer and exporter.