WHILE the Philippines remained the world’s leading abaca producer, the market supply could be increased if other countries in tropical and humid locations were to establish industry to meet demands.
“The knowledge and the experience about production and processing gained can easily be transferred to other countries,” said a future fibers report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The report said Ecuador is the second largest producing country, where abaca is grown in large estates and production is increasingly mechanized, even as the crop is also cultivated in other Southeast Asian countries.
It added that abaca, also called Manila hemp, has a high potential to substitute glass fibers in multiple automotive parts, and is currently well recognized as a material for paper products.
The future fibers report underscored various uses of abaca, such as in making ropes, twines, fishing lines and nets, as well as coarse cloth for sacking.
“There is also a flourishing niche market for abaca clothing, curtains, screens and furnishings, but paper-making is currently the main use of the fiber,” it said.
Most of the abaca fiber is pulped and processed into specialty papers, including tea and coffee bags, sausage casing paper, currency notes, cigarette filter papers, medical/food preparation/disposal papers, high-quality writing paper, vacuum bags, among others.
The report said abaca is currently being used for “soft” applications in the automotive industry as a filling material for bolster and interior trim parts.
However, given its strong tensile strength, it can also be used for “harder” applications for exterior semi-structure components as a substitute for glass fiber in reinforced plastic components.
“Replacing glass fibers by natural fibers can reduce the weight of automotive parts and facilitates more environmentally friendly production and recycling of the parts,” it said.
“Owing to the extremely high mechanical strength of the fiber as well as its length, application of abaca even in highly stressed components offers great potential for different industrial applications,” it added.
According to Philippine abaca industry roadmap 2018-2022, exports of abaca fiber and manufacture generated an average of US$97.1 million per year in the last 10 years. Some $84.9 million came from abaca manufactures such as pulp, cordage, yarns, fabrics and fibercrafts. The remaining $12.2 million was from raw fiber exports.
Europe, specifically the United Kingdom, is the premier destination of abaca fiber followed by Asia, with Japan as the leading buyer.
All abaca pulp was exported for specialty paper manufactures. (Philexport News and Features)