LEGAZPI CITY – Stakeholders in the abaca (Manila hemp) industry are optimistic that the newly signed law declaring Catanduanes as "Abaca Capital of the Philippines" will further boost the industry and improve the livelihood of abaca planters.
Catanduanes Governor Joseph Cua, in an interview on Wednesday, said the new law would provide regular funding from the national government that will help abaca farmers in the province and rehabilitate the abaca industry.
"Aside from the rehabilitation, more programs like farm-to-market roads will also benefit the abaca planters," Cua said.
Nikko Franco Templonuevo, provincial information officer, in a separate interview, said the funding will sustain the medication, and disease mitigation programs for abaca.
"We will continue with skills development programs for the farmers; introduce new technologies in terms of qualities; provide educational assistance to the children of abaca farmers; and, put up farm-to-market roads for accessibility of products," Templonuevo said.
He also noted that the provincial government mulls working to have Catanduanes listed in the Guinness Book of World Records with the “longest abaca rope”.
Catanduanes State University (CatSU) president Dr. Patrick Alain Azanza, in a message sent to Philippine News Agency, said CatSU is very grateful to Congress, the Senate, and President Rodrigo Duterte for having passed the law declaring Catanduanes as the "Abaca Capital of the Philippines".
"CatSU has long been fighting for this and it is good to know that finally the law has been signed because it will mainly benefit the 13,000 families on the island who are into abaca farming, while 60 percent of our students are children of abaca farmers," Azanza said.
Abaca production school
Meanwhile, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), with support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, has launched a Farmers Field School to equip abaca farmers with more skills and knowledge on abaca production in the towns of Virac and San Andres.
In a news release on Friday, the PDRF said the school will hold a six-month skills training program for about abaca farmers in select areas.
A techno-demo farm will likewise showcase good agricultural practices and eventually restore abaca farms as a viable source of income for the farmers.
Provincial Fiber Officer Roberto Lusuegro of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority said the school will be a huge help for the farmers.
“The Farmers Field School on Abaca Production is a sustainable program because we do not end with providing financial assistance. We also help our beloved abacaleros (abaca farmers) acquire more knowledge about abaca farming as well as alternative farming methods as additional sources of income aside from abaca farming,” Lusuegro said in Filipino.
Department of Science and Technology (DOST) provincial director Marie Grace Molina believed that with the new law, more opportunities in research and development would come, such as faster downloading of innovation to help boost the industry’s productivity, and make way for the creation of non-traditional abaca products.
"We are expecting that with the passage of the law, more budget will be allocated for the development of the abaca industry and of course, generation of employment along with all aspects of the abaca value-chain. Indeed, this law is a big win for the Catandunganon Abacaleros that is worth celebrating," she said.
Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) provincial director Arcangel Rodriguez, also in an interview, said the Abaca Capital declaration challenges the agency to be more aggressive in developing competency standards to develop training regulations that will produce skilled workers.
"Abaca Production NC II" will certify abaca farmers and encourage them to actively participate in the massive production of abaca fiber, acquiring related knowledge and competencies in effectively managing the maintenance of the abaca farm/plantation, and developing competency standards on the processing of abaca fibers to help our farmers produce products such as abaca twine, abaca paper, and other sub-products for handicraft, souvenir items, canvas for artworks, among others," he said.
Rodriguez added that abaca as the flagship product of Catanduanes inspires TESDA to venture into more greening technical, vocational, education and training advocacy programs.
Lone District Rep. Hector Sanchez posted on his social media page that the passage of the law is a victory for the island province as abaca possesses fabric that symbolizes the resilience and endurance of the residents during difficult times.
“Nangunguna ang Pilipinas sa global abaca trade dahil sa Catanduanes. I worked hard para tuluyang ma-ipasa ang batas na ito dahil malaking bagay ito lalong-lalo na sa ating mga abaca farmers at strippers. Isusunod naman natin ang mga hakbang para sa pagpapatatayo ng mas de-kalidad pang abaca research facilities sa isla (The Philippines is the frontrunner in global abaca trade because of Catanduanes. I worked hard for this to become a law because this would be a big help to our abaca planters and strippers. We will carry out next the steps for the construction of more quality abaca research facilities in the island province)," Sanchez said.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11700 declaring the province of Catanduanes as the Abaca Capital of the Philippines on April 15.
Under the law, the state recognizes the importance of the abaca industry and its development as a driver of rural development not only because of its singular potential as a raw material that can increase the country's export earnings tremendously and put the name of the country in the map of the world for producing the biggest volume of abaca fiber but also for having provided livelihood to many small farmers in the countryside.
Catanduanes accounts for more than 80 percent of the Bicol region's abaca production with at least 21,500 hectares of land dedicated to the crop. (With a report from Lade Jean Kabagani/PNA)