Opportunities/Prospects and Developments
With the present trade regime moving towards an open market and veering away from protectionism, FIDA believes that the Philippine abaca industry will continue to meet and overcome new challenges like the current worldwide financial crisis and will compete internationally and maintain the country’s strong foothold in the global market for abaca. This basis is anchored on the following:
“Go natural, Go Green” is the Order of the Day
- The advocacy on “going natural, going green” is becoming more intense with growing awareness and concern to care for and protect the environment.
- From a host of industrial products to home furnishings and housewares, fashion and its accessories tp packaging of food, apparels and other items, eco-friendly materials like abaca are in greater need and importance.
- The Montreal Protocol and Kyoto Protocol were signed which practically imposed on participating countries the use of biodegradable materials to protect ozone layer and tackle the issue of global warming and greenhouse gas emission.
- Abaca as a renewable resource can be an excellent part of the overall solution to climate change as the plant absorbs more carbon dioxide than its emission and is hundred percent biodegradable that cannot harm the environment.
Abaca for Composite
- The development of new end-use for abaca fiber in composite applications for the automotive industry in Germany contributed to boost the demand for the fiber. The car manufacturer, Chrysler-Daimler, cited the very good ecological balance of abaca combined with its excellent technical properties similar to those of glass fiber, the material previously used in the underbody protection of the car. The use of abaca fiber, instead of glass fiber, brought about primary energy savings of 60%, thus significantly reducing carbon dioxide emission.
- Other car manufacturing companies especially in the European Union are expectd to use natural fibers as material for their car parts in compliance with the End-of-Life-Vehicle Regulation of the European Parliament. The said Regulation requires them to dispose of at the end of life of their vehicle.
- As composite material, abaca fiber has potentials in boat/ship building industries, aeronautics as well as in construction business especially for high-rise building.
- With the stricter policies against dumping of synthetic fishnets and cordage materials in open sea as enforced by most European nations, uses are returning to the use of natural biodegradable materials like abaca fiber.
- Although synthetic ropes have some technical advantages over abaca ropes, abaca has qualities that meet the needs for special purposes specifically for oil drilling/exploration, navies, merchant shipping and construction.
- Compared to sisal, its closest competitor among natural fibers, abaca has superior tensile strength. One of the rope makers noted that the strength of sisal rope is 20% less than abaca rope, hence, abaca ropes is much preferred in business where the strength of the material to be used is of prime consideration.
- The movie-making industry in the United States is reportedly using abaca rope which, unlike synthetics, does not reflect when exposed to klieg lights.
- The expanding demand for specialty papers for tea bag, meat and sausage casings, currency papers, metallized papers, cigarette papers, filters, hi-tech capacitor papers and other non-wovens and disposables also mean high demand for abaca pulp. Most specialty papers require high porosity and excellent tear, bursting and tensile strength which characterize abaca fiber.
- Compared to synthetics, abaca is preferred especially in the production of meat and sausage casings and tea bags because they do not dissolve when in contact with boiling water and pose no danger to health when pieces of fibers are mistakenly eaten. It is for these reasons as well as the very stringent specifications on strength, elongation and formation required to ensure correct performance on automatic filling machines that these casings are made entirely of abaca. Meat/sausage casings and tea bags are the two major markets for abaca pulp.
- In the production of tea bags, viscose pulp is a possible substitute for abaca but the material is more expensive than abaca-based papers. Moreover, tea bag manufacturing companies, just like other specialty paper manufacturers, are reluctant to switch to other alternative materials because any change would require readjustment of their machinery and formulations which would be too expensive.
- As the environmental protection movement heightens, many countries are becoming more protective of their ecology, particularly the timber forest, the source of wood pulp which is the traditional material for pulp and paper production. This provides an entry point for substitutes such as abaca. Although abaca pulp is priced higher than wood pulp, its higher substitution ratio (4:1) and better qualities in the production of specialty papers make it more attractive. Quality considerations play a predominant role in the choice of fiber for the major specialty end-uses, and technical properties provided by abaca outweigh price advantages of abaca substitutes like wood pulp or sisal.
- Japan continues to import abaca pulp from the Philippines for the manufacture of its currency notes (yen). The Japanese bills of Y10,000, Y500 and Y1,000 denominations have 60% abaca components. Other applications of abaca pulp in Japan include capacitor and insulation papers, tea bag, masking tape, paper cloth, stencil paper, filter oil absorbent paper, casings and other specialty paper products.
China as New Market for Abaca Pulp
- China has been continuously expanding its imports of abaca pulp from the Philippines for the manufacture of tea bags. With the opening of the Chinese economy following China’s membership to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the influence of the western world to the community has become apparent.
- The Chinese especially the younger generation are now changing their lifestyle, one of which is the use of tea bags instead of the traditional way of preparing tea prompting business establishments in China to serve tea in tea bags. China has one of the biggest tea-drinking populations in the world. Reports also indicated that it may need 20,000 mt of abaca pulp per year to support the requirement of its waste paper recycling plants and for other uses.
Abaca in Fibercrafts
- Innovative and functional fibercrafts from abaca have continued to evolve and introduced in both the local and international markets with the Filipino intrinsic artistry, ingenuity and world-class craftsmanship coupled with the versatility of abaca fiber.
- The Gifts, Toys and Housewares (GTH) sector has made wider use for abaca especially for home furnishings, house decors and accessories and fashion as well. With the current advocacy of lifestyle market promotion wherein several product lines are packaged as one to promote a specific theme, demand for abaca crafts is expected to strengthen further.
- Demand for fibercrafts is dictated by fad and fashion but with the Filipino’s intrinsic artistry, ingenuity and world-class craftsmanship coupled with versatility of abaca fiber, the vast potentials of our fibercrafts will remain through their continued regular feature in boutiques and specialty stores and in mass retailing abroad.
- For the local fibercraft and weaving industries, high grades abaca fiber and “tinagak” or knotted abaca are the most highly valued commodities as demand for such materials has been on the rise not only in the local market but also in China, now considered as the biggest competitor for the supply of semi-processed fiber.
Abaca as Wellness Product
- The cosmetic industry also makes use of abaca enzymes in the production of natural, organic, hand-crafted skin care products like abaca soap and lotion which reportedly have anti-aging and therapeutic properties and are now exported abroad.
Abaca for Fashion
- The use of abaca, in pure or in blends with other natural fibers like piña fiber and pineapple silk, for textile is another opportunity.
- Contemporary and wearable collection can be fashioned from abaca and other fibers, veering away from the traditional “cultural” ensemble, appealing and acceptable to both the young and old generations.
Other New Uses
- Researches on product development could further open up more opportunities for abaca fiber especially for the following applications:
- As composite material for:
- other industrial applications
- construction industry: light structural walls, insulation materials, floor and wall coverings and roofing
- As raw material component for apparels like "örganic" denims
- On the production side, FIDA has been continuously implementing programs/projects geared towards increased production of quality abaca fiber such as:
- Goal I or Abaca Expansion Program is aimed at establishing new agribusiness lands and generating employment which started in 2005. By the end of 2010, a total of 48,931 hectares new abaca plantations have been established bringing the overall hectarage to 167,144,9 hectares
Abaca Rehabilitation involves the rehabilitation of diseased and typhoon-damaged abaca plantations aimed at increasing abaca farm productivity.
- Disease Eradication is aimed at eradicating abaca mosaic, bract mosaic and bunchy top, the three viral diseases which affect the abaca plantations in Bicol and Eastern Visayas. It is also aimed to prevent and control the spread of the diseases in the healthy adjacent plantations.
- Abaca Planting Materials Production is being implemented to support the planting material requirements of farmers for the expansion and rehabilitation of abaca plantations. This is carried out through the following activities:
- In vitro (tissue culture) production and distribution of high-yielding, disease-free abaca cultivars at the FIDA tissue culture laboratories in Legaspi City, Sorsogon City, Abuyog (Leyte), Virac (Catanduanes) and Bago Oshiro (Davao City)
- Disease diagnosis at the FIDA Diagnostic laboratories in Legaspi City, Abuyog (Leyte) and Bago Oshiro (Davao City) to ensure that the sources of materials for tissue culture and for distribution to farmers are disease-free
- Establishment/maintenance of abaca nurseries for planting material production and distribution
- Development/maintenance of seedbanks in Camarines Sur, Sorsogon, Leyte, Zamboanga del Sur and Davao City
- Mechanization of Abaca Fiber Extraction
- R and D on crop protection, crop production and crop improvement and fiber processing
- On the marketing side, FIDA is committed at sustaining and enhancing the demand for abaca and fiber-based products in both the domestic and international communities. The major thrusts that are continuously being undertaken by the Authority are the following:
- Trade Promotion is aimed to expand the market base for the Philippine abaca industry through participation in local and international trade fairs/exhibits, multi-media promotions, fashion shows, etc.
- Market Information Exchange and Dissemination is aimed to keep FIDA and other concerned government and private entities/individuals abreast of industry developments, issues and concerns, including trade possibilities in the global market. These are carried out through the distribution of prepared information materials; use of multi-media to reach out greater number of clients, business contacts and prospective investors; dialogues/meetings between and among industry participants and representatives of concerned agencies; and access to Internet and electronic inter-agency networking toward global search for market opportunities.
- Market/Institutional Linkages are done through the conduct of the following: 1) facilitating/establishing direct market linkages among fiber producers, processors and end-users to ensure stable and more regular markets and better prices for producers and more stable supplies for manufacturers/processors and end-users, and 2) initiating and strengthening direct linkages with other concerned/relevant institutions to expand trade for Philippine abaca fiber and manufactures.
In support of the above, FIDA undertakes the following activities:
- Networking with Philippine embassies based in foreign countries, particularly with agricultural and commercial attaches to identify prospective buyers and/or interested investors on abaca and manufactures
- Coordination with foreign embassies and other relevant international organizations for pertinent information on market opportunities as well as inquiries
- Coordination with trade promotion agencies like DTI-CITEM,, business organizations and other similar entities for the wider promotion of the abaca industry
- Market referrals or responses to inquiries of industry clientele for market assistance especially on suppliers/prospective buyers of abaca fiber and manufactures for possible market tie-ups
- Arrangement of meetings between and among prospective buyers and suppliers and manufacturers for possible trade negotiations/tie-ups
- Continuing activities in developing/strengthening entrepreneurial capabilities of abaca farmers