Davao’s abaca industry ‘dying from neglect’

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 March) – It propelled the local economy in the pre-war years, but the city’s abaca industry has become a “classic example” of a dying venture due to neglect, Dante S. Delima, chief operating officer of Agri-Tech Integrated Services Cooperation, said.

Delima issued the statement during the Mindanao Sustainable Agrarian and Agriculture Development’s “Usapang Kalakalan” at the Apo View Hotel Davao Tuesday.

A resident dries abaca fibers near his house in the mountain village of Mampi in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur. MindaNews Photo by Ruby Thursday More

He said local farmers could have seized the huge market opportunities offered by this “old promising commodity” had they sustained abaca farming.

He said abaca production in the city is mostly left to the Lumads in the hinterlands.

It was getting but little support from the government, as it gave more emphasis on the production of high-value crops such as coffee, cacao, and coconut.

Delima said farmers in the city a century ago used more advanced and mechanized equipment in the production [of abaca] under Japanese management.

Japanese inhabitants in Davao fled the area as Japan’s imperial army invaded the country at the onset of the war in the Pacific.

Delima suggested that for the industry to recover, the government should give sufficient budget to the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) and strengthen private-public sector cooperation to capture the opportunities.

“Now is the right time to focus on and give PhilFIDA sufficient fund to be able to function and serve the abaca industry in the Philippines so that it can recover),” he said.

Noting a growing demand from domestic and global markets, he encouraged farmers to go back to planting abaca, intercropped with other commodities to diversify their farms.

“Kung palabyon nato ni, sayang (if we miss out on this, it’s a waste),” he added.

He cited that the industry is facing the threat of competition from Latin American countries that have started to plant abaca, with planting materials sourced from the Philippines.

He said his group opened a 10-hectare abaca nursery in Mindoro in preparation for a massive planting of abaca in at least 5,000 hectares on the island.

He said they are willing to provide technical assistance to Davao for a systematic and intensive production of abaca.

A report by the Philippine Statistics Authority said abaca production in the city increased from 22.43 metric tons in 2010 to only 26.80 MT in 2016.

Ramon M. Bargamento II, chair of Barangay Mintal, said one of the early Japanese settlers in the city was a wealthy entrepreneur Ohta Kyozaburo, who arrived in the city in 1903.

Dubbed the “Father of Davao Development,” he set up his Ohta Development Company head office in Talomo, and later moved to Mintal where his abaca business had not only flourished but had also driven the city’s economy.

His success in abaca farming and processing drew other Japanese to Mintal, then the most advanced of all villages with a well thought of map similar to an “urban plan” initiated by the Japanese, Bargamento said.

He added the Japanese built, among others, a school, cemetery, irrigation facility, ice plant, hospital, and hydropower plants with a combined power of 3,470 kilowatts, enough to power the whole of old Davao City.

Hedcor, a subsidiary of AboitizPower, maintains the power plants – Talomo Hydro 2A, Talomo Hydro 2B, Talomo Hydro 2, and Talomo Hydro 3.

Delima said abaca production is labor-intensive and could generate jobs for the locals in the rural communities.

“Farmers look at abaca as labor-intensive, that’s why they would rather plant corn, rice, and high value crops,” he said.

He said abaca farming is suitable the country’s topography, climate and local culture.

He added some of the outputs from abaca are exported to Japan for their textile industry and as a component of their banknotes. Others reach Germany as materials for Kevlars, textile, and even automobiles. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)