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Abaca fiber and handicraft exports

(Part IV)

Published

Nelly Favis-Villafuerte

Nelly Favis-Villafuerte

In my article last week (Part III), I mentioned three (3) major problems besetting the Philippine Abaca Industry today – one of which is the presence of the bunchy tops virus.

One may ask: What is the so-called abaca bunchy tops virus (ABTV)? Banana bunchy top is a viral disease caused by a single-stranded DNA virus called the Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV). It was first identified in Fiji in 1891, and has spread around the world since then. Like many viruses, BBTV was named after the symptoms seen, where the infected plants are stunted and have “bunchy” leaves at the top. The disease is transmitted from plant-to-plant in tropical regions of the world. BBTV is a widespread disease in the tropics and is present in the Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Taiwan, most the South Pacific Islands, Pakistan and parts of India and Africa. (Reference: Wikipedia) As many of us know, the abaca plant is closely related to the banana, native to the Philippines.

I am also reproducing hereunder some other interesting information on abaca bunchy tops virus taken from the Facebook of PhilFIDA Executive Director Costales, and I quote:-

“Why is it that there is no “Abaca Bunchy Tops Virus” or ABTV in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Kenya and Equatorial Guinea?

“Answer – All of them are corporately run cooperative abaca plantations and they only harvest the matured stalks and strip its precious fibers.

“Please note, there is no found cure yet for ABTV except uproot, chop and burn and thru bamboo sticks laced with herbicide to kill the infected abaca plants.

“There are three (3) main reasons why, we believe, the ABTV is prevalent in the Philippines.

“Shrubs and bushes grows faster than the abaca plant itself. If left unattended, it will invade and cover the whole abaca plant and in no time insects will harbor in it. Abaca is a tertiary crop and an industrial crop, to boot. It is not edible. The priority of the farmers are always the food crops as they are perishables. Before, most of the farmers only harvest abaca fibers when there is scarcity of food to be harvested. But now, with the current price situation per kilo of abaca fibers at all-time high and copra, on the other hand, at the downside, the farmers are now prioritizing abaca simply because also of the “all-in” buying practice which is in existence for over 10 years now. Well, said practice will come to pass come Oct 1, 2018.

“The other reason why the presence of the dreaded bunchy tops virus in the Philippines is the bacbac or umbak gathering. The young abaca plant of at least 1 meter high is harvested of its 5 to 6 outer leaf sheaths after slitting the leaf sheaths at the base of the plant at least 5 to 7 inches from the ground and wait for it to dry up for a week or two. If the gatherers slit an infected abaca plant and the same knife is also used to slit other abaca mats in the area, then the whole plantation will soon be infected. When the bacbac or umbak is transported to be sold to furniture makers located far away, it transports also along the way the infected aphid insects carrying the bunchy tops virus. Provincial ordinances are now being issued in the Bicol region by the LGUs.

“The 3rd reason why the spread of the virus many years ago is the “Pojada” system. A trader buys the whole abaca plantation “all-in”. What the trader do then is maximize its profits by harvesting/stripping all including the young abaca plants thereby erasing the whole abaca plantation from the face of the earth. The equipments and the knives used are the main culprits also why the spread of the virus. A national law prohibiting such practice should be in order.

“The 3 above mentioned ill practices are the reasons why abaca plantations in the Bicol region except Catanduanes (Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon) were all wiped out including Region 8. Catanduanes will surely follow the same fate if they will not completely ban the gathering of bacbac or umbak. We heard it is now rampant in the island province.

“Please note the average abaca land holding in the Philippines is 1 farmer is to 1.5 hectares. At the moment, there is no such thing as a corporate abaca plantation in the Philippines with even 100 hectares.

“ABACA IS A GIFT FROM GOD TO THE FILIPINO NATION. EVEN BEFORE FERDINAND MAGELLAN LANDED ON OUR SHORES, ABACA WAS ALREADY BEING CULTIVATED BY OUR FOREFATHERS AND THERE WAS ALREADY A FABRIC INDUSTRY THEN. AFTER THE 1920’S, ABACA VARIETIES LIKE TANGONGON AND BONGOLANON WERE SMUGGLED OUT FROM OUR SHORES.”

(To be continued)

Have a joyful day! (For comments/reactions please send to Ms. Villafuerte’s email:
villafuerte_nelly@yahoo.com).

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