Déjà vu for the Catanduanes abaca industry
posted 10-Dec-2019  ·  
4,044 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Six years ago, in 2013, the number one producer of abaca fiber in the world begged for funds to rehabilitate plantations ravaged by disease.

Officials of the Philippine Fiber Industry and Development Authority (PhilFIDA), then headed by officer-in-charge Roger Magtangob, had determined that in Bato town alone, where an abaca rehabilitation program was being implemented, disease infestation was pegged at 13 percent of the total 2,690 hectares planted.

They feared that while the situation was still manageable provided the Abaca Disease Management Program (ADMP) was continued, the actual infestation could reach as high as 30 percent of the 32,000 hectares planted to abaca if the program is not pursued.

In 1991, abaca plantations on the island were also hit by disease but timely intervention by the then FIDA, with funding assistance from the Catanduanes Agricultural Support Programme (now ARDCI), prevented its spread.

Abaca plantations in all 11 municipalities are infected to some extend by the abaca bunchy top virus, abaca mosaic virus, and abaca bract mosaic, the so-called Deadly Trio of the abaca industry.

Bunchy-top is indicated by the malformations of the leaves and yellowish or whitish streaks on the abaca leaves, causing stunting of the infected abaca plants.

The abaca mosaic disease, on the other hand, is characterized by the change of color of the leaves from dark green to light green or yellowish with rusty streaks on the blade, midrib and petiole of the leaf.

The only way to manage the disease is to pay farmers a reasonable amount per hectare and provide them with chemicals and bamboo sticks to stem the spread of viral disease. The sticks are dipped overnight in herbicide and then, with the diseased plant’s stem cut off at the base, the stick is thrust deep into the remaining corm to kill off the virus.

Back then, a Benchmark Survey Assessment has to be done in all 11 towns to determine the true percentage of diseased plantations, with five personnel covering between 50 to 100 hectares per day, depending on the difficulty of the mountainous terrain, at a cost of about P2,000 per day.

It is not certain whether such an assessment has been made by PhilFIDA or even if it has the funds to conduct such a survey.

What is incontrovertible now is that six years hence, this 2019, the province’s abaca industry and the 13,000 farmers who depend on it for their daily needs, are in similar dire straits.

Support for the ADMP and other efforts to address the abaca disease infestation has been spotty at best.

In the past, then Congressman Leandro Verceles Jr. strongly supported the FIDA disease eradication campaign by providing funds from his Countrywide Development Fund (CDF). Succeeding congressmen have not been so enthusiastic about the agency’s efforts.

A request for P3.7 million was submitted to the office of then Cong. Joseph Santiago but not a cent was realized. Records show FIDA again proposed an P11 million project for funding by Rep. Cesar Sarmiento during his first term but to no avail.

During the administration of Governor Joseph Cua, P2.7 million was allocation for abaca rehabilitation through accredited abaca farmers organizations. In Gov. Araceli Wong’s stint, a P2 million project proposal for an abaca rehabilitation and abaca disease eradication project was approved.

For a province whose officials loudly promote the “Abaca Capital of the Philippines” tagline, the meager support for the abaca industry does not match their verbal fervor.

Now that we have two congressmen in Rep. Hector S. Sanchez and partylist Rep. Jose J. Teves Jr., should we expect these honorable gentlemen to take up the cause of abaca farmers and secure funding for the abaca disease eradication effort?

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