Tourism helps boost abaca industry in Catanduanes

By: Jorge Hallare

VIRAC, Catanduanes — The abaca industry of this island-province has been receiving a boost after the provincial tourism office incorporated it in its tourism programs.

Carmel Bonifacio-Garcia, the province’s tourism officer, said in an interview over the weekend that the provincial government is working hard to promote the so-called “Manila Hemp” industry, which suffered a slowdown after typhoon “Nina” hit Catanduanes in December 2016.

Garcia said that last May, the provincial government launched the very first “Abaca Festival” to help the farmers and abaca strippers locally known as “paraha’got”, who participated in the lined up activities, especially during the street presentation in this capital town.

“The participants from the 11 municipalities and villages brought their own products made of abaca fiber and presented it to the invited guests and visitors of the province. The abaca festival will be regularly conducted every last week of May,” she said.

Garcia added that they will hold the “Catandunganon Festival” in October and are planning to also incorporate in the program the province’s abaca industry. The island-province will celebrate its foundation day on October 26.

Through the years, the fiber industry has been the main source of income of the people of Catanduanes.

The abaca industry of the province became famous during the Spanish period. It was then that the fiber was called the “Manila Hemp” and the province was tagged as the “Abaca Capital” of the Philippines and of the world.

Angel Valeza, officer in charge of the Provincial Agricultural Office, said in a separate interview that based on their data, at least 72 percent of the total number of families in Catanduanes is engaged in and rely on abaca planting and stripping, followed by fishing and planting of other crops.

Most of the fibers are exported to Europe and other countries in Asia, including Japan. The fibers are used in making textiles, paper products, paper bills and clothing.

“In 2015, the volume of production of abaca fiber in Catanduanes was 70,356.41 metric tons but after Typhoon Nina (intenational name Nock-ten) hit the province in December 2016 and a virus attack, the volume of production in 2016 went down to 26,864.22 metric tons and it continued to decrease in 2017 to 23,271.78 percent or a 13.37 percent decrease” from the previous year, Valeza said.

She added that based on data from the Fiber Development Authority (FIDA), in 2017, the total area planted to abaca was 24,023 hectares which was lower than the 25,367 hectares listed in 2016.

Based on record, the world abaca production in 2013 was 64,319.54 metric tons. Of this, 55,958 metric tons were from the Philippines and mostly produced by Catanduanes, while Ecuador produced 8,362 metric tons.

The continuing decrease in Catanduanes’ abaca production is the main reason the provincial government, with the help of the national government through FIDA, is looking for ways to help the fiber industry get back on track.

Valeza said FIDA and the Department of Agriculture are helping the abaca planters and strippers by offering free technical training, free mechanical stripping, acquisition of equipment and even housing programs.

The government also downloaded millions of funds to construct farm-to-market roads, especially the so-called “Abaca Highway” that will benefit the abaca planters and strippers in the towns of Caramoran, Gigmoto, San Miguel, San Andres, Baras, Panganiban, Viga, Pandan, Bagamanoc, Bato and Virac.

The government also plans to construct a tram line to ease the burden of abaca planters in bringing the fibers from the mountainous areas to the town center. (PNA)

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