DAVAO CITY—Former Department of Agriculture(DA) Secretary and now chairperson of the Mindanao Development Authority (MDA) Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol said in his Facebook page in May, that the country must have hit a jackpot despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said “Who would even think that abaca, the often ignored plant endemic to the Philippines would gain a star status because of Covid-19?” Presently, the demand for raw materials from the banana-like plant, locally known as abaca (musa textilis), is rising due to the global shortage of the most important tools against the coronavirus pandemic—personal protective equipment (PPE).
Piñol was elated because he started the abaca rehabilitation in Southern Leyte in 2016 during his term as DA secretary under the Duterte administration. Kennedy Trinidad Costales, president of the Philippine Fiber Development Authority (Philfida) confirmed that the DA through then secretary Piñol funded the abaca rehabilitation project in the amount of Php 50-million in Sogod, Southern Leyte in mid-2016 when it was ravaged by the dreaded Abaca Bunchy Top Virus (ABTV). “Now after three years, the said municipality is back on its feet and the farmers are happy trading again the precious industrial agricultural commodity,” Costales said.
According to studies, abaca’s unique, porous fibers are ideal for making medical fabric like the PPE, which is the first line of defense for medical frontliners against the spread of Covid-19 until a vaccine is found and manufactured.
“With the new normal, demand for face masks will spike exponentially worldwide. PPEs are just one of the hundred end products of the precious abaca plant,” Costales continued. He said that there is a present supply deficit of about 125,000 metric tons (MT) of abaca worldwide, which is equivalent to the output from 60,000 hectares of farmland.
Based on reports, there are only about 142,000 hectares of land dedicated to abaca in the country with an average of 0.54 MT fiber yield per hectare. Of the 81 provinces in the country, 51 have abaca farms. Almost one-third of abaca production comes from Bicol with 52,493 hectares and almost the same size of plantations in Central Visayas, Davao, Cotabato, and Caraga regions combined.
DA Secretary William Dar said that before the declaration of the pandemic, a big company expressed interest in investing in the local abaca industry by developing a plantation and manufacturing facility in Caraga region but was stalled because of the quarantine. “By the end of 2021, with the establishment of nurseries, massive distribution of abaca seeds would be done for free to interested farmers who wish to engage in abaca farming,” Dar said.