Abaca is life for Catanduanes. In a bid to strengthen the abaca industry in the province, the Catanduanes State University (CSU) held its first consultative forum with stakeholders and the abaca farmers from the 11 municipalities of the province on June 26, 2018 at the university auditorium.

 The event, facilitated by the CSU’s Research and Development Services and the Extension Offices manned respectively by Drs. Jimmy T. Masagca, and Marilyn B. Panti, gained support from the province’s political bigwigs led by Cong. Cesar V. Sarmiento, and Gov. Joseph C. Cua, who were present during the forum. Both have shown strong advocacies for the province’s abaca development.

Other agencies and their respective heads/representatives—DOST (Dir. Jimmy Cabrera), PhilFIDA (OIC-PFO Lorgen Garcia), DTI (Ms Mabel Escueta), DA (OIC-PA Nelia B. Teves), DOLE (Dir. Russel Nieves) and the Pinoy Lingap Damayan Multipurpose Cooperative (PLDC) through its Manager, Antonio Jimenez, all shared their piece during the forum as abaca stakeholders in the province.

The event dubbed as first of its kind in the CSU, offers opportunities for open constructive dialogue among stakeholders concerned with abaca agriculture and natural fiber production.

“The consultative meeting provides a unique avenue for abaca fiber producers, researchers, scientists, extensionists, and government representatives to explore possibilities for working together towards more sustainable environment-friendly and economically viable partnership for the future,” said Dr. Jimmy T. Masagca, CSU’s Director for Research in his overview.

 Reason to celebrate

             Dr. Minerva I. Morales, CSU President, said in her welcome message that she acknowledges strongly the show of support and cooperation of abaca farmers in Catanduanes, particularly in their presence during the forum. She  proceeded to thank the offices of the Governor and the Congressman of the province, as well as the different line agencies as participating institutions.

             “Today is a reason for celebration… The richness of experience from our abaca farmers, their strength as ‘parahag-ot’ (abaca strippers) invite us to join together for development’s sake… That shows the tensile strength of abaca, said to be part of our Catandungan culture, a blessing ought to be nurtured …” Dr. Morales said.

She revealed that about 92% in the regional and 29% in the national production respectively, are being shared by Catanduanes’ abaca industry.

On the part of the university, Dr. Morales added that the CSU has its mandate to conduct research and development, and hence, trainings or technical assistance concerning abaca production and development are given way in its technical support package in the community. “ Let us be stewards of our island province for sustainability…” as she encouraged everyone in her message.

 Sustainable abaca farming

Gov. Joseph C. Cua congratulated the CSU led by its President, Dr. Minerva I. Morales, in coming up with such event, said to be the first in the institution. “Abaca is the primary agricultural crop in Catanduanes… and it is but fitting that we hold a forum like this one intended to help strengthen our abaca industry,” the Governor said.

Gov. Cua said that barring all procedural delays which he said was beyond the Provincial Local Government’s control, the promised P50 Million on January 2017 for abaca rehabilitation fund from President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Sec. Manny Pinol of the Department of Agriculture (DA), after typhoon ‘Nina’ hit the province, was “finally downloaded some three months ago.”

It could be recalled that last February 8, 2018, DA Regional Director, Elena de los Santos, and PhilFIDA OIC- Regional Director, Mary Anne Molina, led the turn-over of the said fund to PLGU-Catanduanes represented by Gov. Cua in a ceremony held at Victor Hall, Virac Town Center in Virac, Catanduanes. Present as witnesses during the turn-over were Chief of  Staff,  Mr. Rudy M. Rojas, representing Cong. Cesar V. Sarmiento, and the Mayors of the province’s 11 municipalities.

Gov. Cua stressed that abaca farming in Catanduanes must be sustainable. He reiterated his administration’s unwavering support for abaca industry in the province, and hastened to add that there is a need to scale-up abaca farming technology through mechanization to lessen the farmers’ burden and increase their farming income derived from abaca. He said that abaca farmers share largely in the overall economic landscape of the province.

Abaca farmers as champions

Rep. Cesar V. Sarmiento, Congressman of the Lone District of Catanduanes, delivered his keynote message during the forum in which he called those abaca farmers present as the real ‘bida’ (champions).

Cong. Sarmiento said that Catanduanes is considered as the abaca capital of the Philippines, and  in the world, with Ecuador as just second to it.

He regarded the abaca industry in Catanduanes as the backbone of its economy…although the Congressman emphasized the each one has varied roles to play in the process. “We should continue to help and fight for the betterment of abaca industry in the province,” he added.

In a video clip he presented during the forum, Cong. Sarmiento emphasized how he battled for abaca farmers’ share in the national pie for the province as  he was shown grilling high DA officials in a Congressional hearing regarding the release of the Quick Response Fund to Catanduanes after typhoon ‘Nina’ ravaged the province.

“The great demand in the world market from  our abaca particularly coming from Catanduanes as the abaca capital in the Philippines, must be a challenge to all of us,” Cong. Sarmiento said.

“I (just) filed House Bill No. 7369 in Congress, an Act declaring the province of Catanduanes as the ‘Abaca Capital of the Philippines’ …and your recommendations in this forum will form part of my inputs during the first hearing of that Bill,” Cong. Sarmiento added.

He said that part of his support to abaca farmers in Catanduanes is the Abaca Fiber and Trading Processing Center which will be completed by December 2018. “This is a long-term project for the abaca farmers of Catanduanes, with the PLDC as its conduit,” he said.

Cong. Sarmiento revealed that as a complement, he coordinated with the Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP) office to further support packages to abaca farmers in Catanduanes, and this includes also the infrastructure component needed by the industry. “The future of abaca development program in Catanduanes relies on this…it will help increase living conditions and incomes  of our abaca farmers in the island province,” the solon said.

“Expect by 2019, I will allocate funding support for abaca farmers in Catanduanes… We must help each other… we must actively participate… Empowered citizenry will give the right decision,” Cong. Sarmiento said.

Issues and interventions

The abaca farmers and the PLDC aired concerns with regards the current abaca production and trading practices during the forum’s presentation and workshop.

The issues included that of price stability, fiber classification, deterioration of fiber quality, and support to handicraft sector. PLDC’s GM Jimenez said that the cooperative collects some 20,000 to 25,000 kilos of abaca every week. He said that the activity is beyond profit but forms part of a social responsibility for members and abaca farmers in Catanduanes.

“The coop comes out with fibers which are already classified, dried and unadulterated… “ Jimenez said.

Meanwhile, common among those issues presented was centered on financial means to help sustain the abaca production in the province.

A participant from Baras town observed that majority of abaca farmers are aged, and hence, they needed (social) benefits from the government considering their key role in the economic well-being of the province.

Another participant from Gigmoto town went further in saying that non-existence of abaca drying facilities would only further their woes, and affect the quality of abaca produce if it goes unchecked and unregulated by concerned agencies. He reported that it appears the practice of some farmers is to sell outright the wet abaca produce for immediate income, much to their disadvantage to some unscrupulous traders in the barrios. “The presence of drying facility will help cushion this impact,” he said.

Cong. Sarmiento cautioned also to avoid probable problem in the process of planting abaca in the uplands by sacrificing younger trees. He said that cutting them and engaging in ‘kaingin’  (burning) just to pave way for abaca plantation is not reasonable for abaca farmers. He said that if that happens as a practice, other problems would come in, such as floods and erosion.

DTI’s representative, Ms Escueta, also added that Catanduanes has a wide array of abaca hand-made products, textiles, and decors. She said that raw materials and market are not a problem, but what remains lacking is the available manpower and skilled laborers to do the job, particularly in the value-adding processing of abaca raw produce in the province. “We encourage our abaca farmers to consider engaging also in the value-adding or processing,” Escueta said.

On the other hand, DOLE’s chief, Russel Nieves, announced that in Caramoran, the office sponsored some 25 hectares of farmlands planted to abaca while it has on the pipeline as pilot area for abaca plantation the barangay of Dugui Wala in Virac.

The DOST’s part as presented by its chief, Mr. Jaime V. Cabrera, while observing that abaca disease infestations have gone spread, the office could help through training provisions especially in abaca disease control.

Areas of discussion

             The one-day forum provided several learning windows where abaca farmers could take a view and share their experiences in the process.

During the forum proper, several invited stakeholders and resource persons within CSU and outside the academe spoke about their respective topics. These included: 1) “Status of Abaca Industry in Catanduanes (PhilFIDA, OIC Lorgen Garcia); 2.) Status of Abaca Rehabilitation Program in Catanduanes (OPAg, OIC Nelia B. Teves); 3.) Understanding the Ecosystem of Abaca for Sustainability (CSU, Pres. Dr. Minerva I. Morales); 4.) IPM and Abaca Disease Management: An Advocacy (DOST, Dir. Jaime V. Cabrera); 5.) Status of Abaca Hybrid Research Projects in Catanduanes (CSU-RDS, Ms Nena V. Santos); 6.) Socio-Economic Profile of Abaca Farmers in Catanduanes (CSU, Dr. Aurora E. Araojo); 7.) The Participation of Cooperatives to the Development of Abaca Industry (PLDC, GM Antonio Jimenez); and, 8.) Business Opportunities for Abaca Industry (DTI, Ms Mabel Q. Escueta). ***


BY: BONG S. VILLAR/AO V/ PRO -III–With PR Team, John Edmund Manlagnit, Raymond Valeza, Mark Anthony Tatel