Abaca: The industrial trailblazer
The mid 1900s saw the demand in this wonder crop. It became one of Philippines’ most important crop exports in the 1900s up until now. Highly sought after in fashion, food, currency, and even in construction, it is no denying the impact abaca has.
Abaca is a valuable economic asset. Philippines exports 87% of the world’s abaca required for many purposes. It has traveled around the world in many forms. Dita Sandico Ong, a Filipina fashion designer, has graced Athens, Greece with her creations using banana and abaca fiber. We have seen the popular ones but abaca is far more versatile than you thought.
Abaca is a species of inedible banana found in the Philippines. The fruit is never eaten anyway because Abaca is harvested for the fibers before the fruits mature. Bicol region is the top producer of Abaca in the Philippines. Its fiber was originally cultivated to make ropes then slowly transitioning to specialty paper used for teabags and banknotes. Traditional forms of it are still made like the t’nalak of the Tiboli tribe in Mindanao. For crafts, abaca can be used to make furniture, hammocks, novelty and souvenir items.
With a pandemic plaguing us, abaca’s demand is rising again as raw material for the production of personal protective equipment: face masks, lab gowns, shoe covers, head covers or hoods. The photo above shows an example of a facemask made of abaca fibers. If you think abaca was destined to just roam earth, you are wrong. A team led by students of De La Salle University is developing spacesuits lined with abaca fiber to improve the suits’ protection against temperature changes and space radiation. Amazing, what an organic fiber material can do!
The world is also dramatically gearing towards organic and bio-degradable fibers over man-made fibers like plastic. With this global trend, abaca fiber is the top choice being the most durable out of all bio-degradable fibers. Even paper specialty paper made from abaca fiber reduces waste because it can be recycled several times more than paper made from wood fibers. Even production itself of abaca is energy efficient.
Planting abaca especially in large quantities can improve the soil’s water absorption properties. This ability can prevent soil erosion especially in higher places like hills. Planting abaca with other plants can help improve biodiversity and for faster rehabilitation of the soil. Naturally, you can use waste products from abaca as fertilizer. Chemists from Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (DOST-PNRI) led by Dr. Jordan Madrid have developed a non-woven filter made of abaca fiber. This will filter out pollutants in flowing bodies of water.
We might not notice it but abaca is the revolution. Abaca is revolutionizing industries by being the stronger, cheaper, and more environmentally efficient alternative. Abaca is showing us that we do not need to sacrifice budget or the environment for progress’ sake. We can make this world a better place and abaca is one of the tools we have.
- Biccay, J. M. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from http://www.philfida.da.gov.ph/index.php/archived-articles/19-philippine-abaca-helps-in-global-environment-conservation#:~:text=The Philippines is the largest,, handicrafts, novelty items, meat
- Things to do in Tnalak Festival in South Cotabato. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mymindanao.com/2019/07/things-to-do-in-tnalak-festival-in.html
- Sambatyon, E., SambatyonEldan, E., Sambatyon, E., & Eldan. (2020, February 16). Astronaut spacesuits lined with abaca being developed by DLSU-led Philippine science team. Retrieved from https://www.goodnewspilipinas.com/astronaut-spacesuits-lined-with-abaca-being-developed-by-dlsu-led-philippine-science-team/
- Sambatyon, E., SambatyonEldan, E., Sambatyon, E., & Eldan. (2020, May 12). Philippine Abaca world demand rises for raw material of Personal Protective Equipment against COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.goodnewspilipinas.com/philippine-abaca-world-demand-rises-for-raw-material-of-personal-protective-equipment-against-covid-19/
- Sambatyon, E., SambatyonEldan, E., Sambatyon, E., & Eldan. (2020, January 9). Filipino chemists develop abaca-based non-woven fabric to filter water pollutants. Retrieved from https://www.goodnewspilipinas.com/filipino-chemists-develop-abaca-based-non-woven-fabric-to-filter-water-pollutants/
- Abaca Natural Fiber. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.abc-oriental-rug.com/abaca-natural-fiber.html