ABACA IN COCO FARM. Farmers plant an abaca seedling under a coconut tree during training in Hinunangan, Southern Leyte in this Sept. 16 photo. At least 20 hectares of farms in Eastern Visayas have been identified as pilot areas for the planting of abaca under coconut trees in the region, the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) announced on Friday. (Photo courtesy of PhilFIDA)

TACLOBAN CITY – At least 20 hectares of farms in Eastern Visayas have been identified as pilot areas for the planting of abaca under coconut trees, the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) announced on Friday.

PhilFIDA regional director Wilardo Sinahon said this is the first formal attempt to promote the cultivation of abaca under coconut trees in farms closer to communities.

The project initially identified farms in Hinunangan, Southern Leyte; Abuyog, Leyte; Catubig, Northern Samar; and Macarthur, Leyte for its pilot phase. The agency is focusing on four towns due to budget constraints.

“We have seen some farms where coconut and abaca grow together, but these are located in upland and far-flung areas. Also, there has been an intensive promotion of intercropping cacao, coffee, or banana in coconut farms. It’s high time to plant abaca under in coconut since the fiber is a shade-loving plant,” Sinahon told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

The project will require about 30,000 seedlings with over 1,000 of it needed for every hectare of coconut farm. It is seen as an opportunity to raise the income of poor farmers.

On Oct. 15, PhilFIDA started the turnover of abaca planting materials in Lombog village, Hinunangan, Southern Leyte.

The project is in partnership with the Philippine Coconut Authority and local government units.

Eastern Visayas is one of the abaca-producing areas in the country with about 20,000 hectares of land devoted to abaca production.

The region produces 9,000 metric tons of abaca fiber every year.

Abaca fiber is now in demand in the global market due to its application in various products such as electronics, health, and medical products like face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Abaca, known as Manila hemp, is considered the strongest of natural fibers. For decades, abaca fibers are extensively used to produce ropes, woven fabrics, and tea bags, among others. (PNA)