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by Sarwell Q. Meniano
22-June-2007 BusinessWorld

Tacloban – Cecilia Gloria Soriano, administrator of the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA), yesterday urged abaca farmers in Eastern Visayas to increase their yield by up to 10.5 metric tons every year in a bid to offset production losses in typhoon-battered Bicol region.

Ms. Soriano said the country’s hope for sustainable abaca industry development lies with Leyte and Samar.

“Region 8 is very ideal for abaca farming. It has been proven that abaca thrives in Leyte and Samar. This is an area where abaca is one the banner crops in the agriculture sector,” she added.

Ms. Soriano was here to lead the launching of the Oplan Sagip Abaka Program in Burauen, Leyte. She said abaca fiber production in the country declined 10% to 67,000 metric tons last year from 74,000 MT in 2005 due to typhoons and abaca diseases. About 29,000 hectares of abaca farms in Bicol were destroyed by typhoons last year.

Ms. Soriano said she hoped Eastern Visayas could replace even just half of the losses because it would take years for the Bicol provinces to recover. Bicol region is next to Eastern Visayas in abaca production.

Since 1996, 44,099 hectares of land in Eastern Visayas have been planted with abaca.

Over the last 10 years, the region has been leading producer of quality abaca fiber, with annual average production of 27, 640 metric tons, or about 40% of the country’s fiber supply.

However, Leyte’s abaca industry is threatened by the abaca bunchy-top and mosaic viruses. Close to 10,000 hectares of abaca farm areas in Leyte island are infected.

Ms. Soriano emphasized the need to curb the spread of the disease and to establish more plantations of abaca, which is indigenous to these regions.

The government has released about P 300,000 to combat and eventually eradicate abaca disease this year.

Samar is still disease-free and FIDA’s thrust is to expand plantation in Samar to 1,150 hectares within this year.

To achieve this, the abaca tissue culture laboratory based in Abuyog, Leyte has been producing an average of 3,000 disease-free plantlets every month for distribution to farmers.

Ms. Soriano said several countries are discovering the various uses of abaca fiber. Destinations of the country’s abaca fiber exports include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, India, Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the United States and Canada. In different parts of the world, abaca is processed into cordage, pulp and specialty paper and fibercraft including hand woven fabric.

“We have to love abaca. The product is not just for fashion, but for industrial uses as well. Lately, more countries have discovered the importance of abaca,” she added.

The Philippines earned an average of $79 million a year from the exports of abaca fiber and manufactures in the past 10 years.

About 81% of export earnings came from pulp, cordage, yarns, fabrics and fibercrafts.

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