What is Abaca (manila hemp) ?

The abaca plant is closely related to and resembles the banana plant (Musa sapientum). The abaca plant grows from rootstock that produces up to about 25 fleshy, fibreless stalks, forming a circular cluster called a mat, or hill. Each stalk is about 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter and produces about 12 to 25 leaves with overlapping leaf stalks, or petioles, sheathing the plant stalk to form an herbaceous (nonwoody) false trunk about 30 to 40 cm in diameter. The oblong, pointed leaf blade topping each petiole is bright green on the upper surface and yellowish green below and grows to about 1 to 2.5 m (3 to 8 feet) in length and 20 to 30 cm in width at its widest portion.

Abaca fibre, unlike most other leaf fibres, is obtained from the plant leaf stalks (petioles). Although sometimes known as Manila hemp, Cebu hemp, or Davao hemp, the abaca plant is not related to true hemp.

Primary Uses

Virginia Status

What Farmers Need to Know:

The plants grow best in fairly rich, loose, loamy soils that have good drainage. Propagation is mainly from pieces of mature rootstock usually planted at the start of the rainy season. Within 18 to 24 months after planting, two or three of the plant stalks in each mat are ready for harvesting, and two to four stalks can be harvested at intervals of four to six months thereafter. The stalk, with its surrounding petioles, is cut off close to the ground, usually at the time of blossoming. Abaca plants are generally replaced within 10 years.

Industries that will Benefit the Most.

Exported abaca fibers are used in making tea bags, sausage casings, pill coatings, paper products, surgical masks, insulation for computer chips, among others.

Fishing | Meat | Paper & Pulp

Near & Longterm Outlook:

The message from the governor's Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates reveals an economic outlook full of mixed results. The governor points to a bright spot, Virginia's declining unemployment rate. Despite the positive development, reports from the House and Senate money committees painted Virginia as underperforming in economic growth. Those staffers also said consumer spending is too low post-recession.The Virginia State budget has closed the 2016 fiscal year with a $266.3 million budget shortfall from the official forecast. The shortfall means pay increases for state and state-supported local employees, slated for December 1, cannot move forward pending budgetary actions to address the shortfall, according to language in the Appropriation Act.

National Status

Primary Regions

Glatfelter, a specialty paper producer based in Pennsylvania USA, and the mother company of NPI, has obtained a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification from Rainforest Alliance for its sustainable abaca farming practice in Lanao del Sur. Glatfelter’s FSC certification is helping boost the positioning of abaca as a nature-friendly biodegradable fiber with good potentials for promoting inclusive growth.

Crop History

Abaca is a long fibered plant with a high tensile strength. Abaca can be used within plaster castings or composite reinforcement as a natural substitute for synthetic and mineral fibers.

Current Economics

The United States is the top importer of cordage. Major foreign buyers and users of abaca like the manufacturer of Lipton tea have started to require their suppliers for product certification from international certifying bodies like Rainforest Alliance. Buyers would like to be assured that the raw materials that they are using conform to standards that meet certain economic, social and ecological considerations. The certification will guarantee the future of abaca.

Worldwide Status

Primary Regions

The Philippines is the world’s leading producer of abaca, with around 90,000 smallholder farmers growing the crop. In 2013, the Philippines produced 85 per cent of the world’s abaca fiber and the market for abaca is projected to grow by around 5.7 per cent until 2019. Growing abundantly in the Bicol, Visayas and Mindanao regions. About 80% of the total fiber production is sold to local processors/manufacturers of pulp, cordage and fibercrops. The United States, United Kingdom, Japan and China are the major markets abroad.

'The abaca farmers really need more government support on the production side,' Alcala Agriculture Secretary  said.

The European Union and Japan are the largest importers of abaca fiber, accounting for 93% of the total in 2012. In Europe, the United Kingdom is the main buyer of abaca fiber. Abaca in the UK is used mainly for production of pulp and pulp based products.

“The abaca farmers really need more government support on the production side,” Alcala said during the third anniversary of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA).

The Philippine government is also seeking certification for abaca farms from the Rainforest Alliance, a foreign certifying body for sustainable industries, to increase the market value of local abaca manufactures.

Abaca, known worldwide as Manila Hemp, is an economically important crop native only to the Philippines, being the lifeblood of more than 200,000 farming families from 56 abaca growing provinces in the country.

Supplying 85 percent of the total world abaca fiber production, the Philippines prides itself as the world’s top producer of abaca fiber. Despite its dominance in the world market, however, the country is confronted by the reality that abaca remains a poor man’s crop. The small farmers get meager income from abaca production, and this eventually forces them to shift to other crops.

Crop History

The abaca tree is known to aid in erosion control and is used in landscape rehabilitation. Through this new partnership, farmers will be assisted in protecting and rehabilitating degraded forest lands through enrichment planting, assisted natural regeneration and agroforestry. These activities are geared at conserving the area’s rich biodiversity as well as mitigating climate change.

“Not much attention was being given to abaca before but when typhoon Pablo destroyed most crops in Mindanao, abaca plants remained resilient,” said FIDA (Fiber Industry Development Authority) administrator Cecile Soriano

Abaca is an ideal companion crop especially under coconut and fruit-bearing trees, and could provide secondary or additional income to farmers.

Current Economics

In 2015, there was a 36 percent increase in export of raw abaca fiber valued at $127 million.

Total value of Philippine abaca exports rose to $114.7 million last year, up 3.1 percent from a year ago.

Pulp, which accounts for 69.2 percent market share of the abaca exports, reported earnings of $79.4 million or an increase of 11.7 percent.

Abaca cordage, which grabbed a market share of 10 percent, fell to $11.4 million. Fibercrafts exports also fell 67.3 percent to $3.7 million.

Europe was the top exporter accounting for 16.54 million MTs followed by Asian destinations and the US. By country, Germany was top exporter followed by UK, Japan and France.

The Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA) has entered into negotiations with buyers from France, Spain, Qatar and Russia for the supply of fiber twine, rope, mat and pulp.

Production of abaca in the Philippines has declined in recent years due to “pests and diseases, lack of high-yielding and virus-resistant planting materials and poor technology adoption of farmers,” states one source. The partnership between GIZ and MANCO will provide technical and financial assistance to farmers as well as high-quality planting materials. Germany’s international development cooperation arm Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and Manila Cordage Co (MANCO) are partnering to promote sustainable production, management and marketing of abaca from Panay Island, one of the country’s major producers of this crop.

The Philippines is the leading producer of abaca with an average share of 83% during the five-year period. While the crop is also cultivated in other Southeast Asian countries, the second largest producing country is Ecuador, where abaca is grown on large estates and production is increasingly mechanized. In the Philippines, the abaca sector consists mainly of smallholders. On the average, Ecuador accounts for about 14% of the world abaca fiber production. Philippine abaca has nine grades for each type of cleaning compared to the five grades of Ecuador.

As such, Philippine abaca presents a wider spectrum of quality choices and answers the various needs of different manufacturers like the papermaking industry. The abaca industry is threatened by serious and aggressive moves by Indonesia to massively produce abaca under its government’s reforestation program. It is also said that abaca production in Kenya and Equatorial Guinea is also increasing.

Important Fiber Terms