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Brighter days may be up ahead for the country’s abaca industry. Researchers at the Department of Science and Technology’s Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI) have recently found that the “Bandala” abaca hybrid yields high quality fiber that makes it a promising material for pulp and paper.

The physical properties of abaca hybrid paper samples were comparable to those of commercial abaca.

This is great news, considering that the Bandala is the result of more than 60 years of work by scientists, mostly from the Institute of Plant Breeding – University of the Philippines Los Baños, who spent hundreds of hours in laboratories trying to come up with the kind of plant that would meet the needs of local abaca farmers and adapt to changing environmental conditions.

The result of breeding the right types of abaca and banana (the two plant species are close relatives), the Bandala has all the traits of the ideal hybrid. It is high-yielding, drought-tolerant and able to withstand the attack of the notorious abaca bunchy-top virus or ABTV.

“Our finding was that the physical properties (basis weight, thickness, folding endurance, and burst, tensile and tear indices) of the Bandala paper sheets we studied were comparable to those of commercial abaca,” says DOST-FPRDI researcher Aimee Trixie R. Habon. “This is important because it shows that the hybrid has high economic potential.”

Abaca, which is known as the world’s strongest natural fiber, is native to the Philippines. We are the world’s number one abaca supplier, and the crop is the source of livelihood for about 200,000 farming families in 56 provinces. Sad to say, however, due to various reasons, most planters earn little from abaca farming and remain very poor.

With the support of different science-based agencies in helping solve the sector’s most pressing problems, however, the future looks better for our abaca farmers. These agencies include the UPLB-IPB and the DOST- Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) which has put in place a Strategic Abaca Industry Science & Technology Roadmap.

The DOST-FPRDI is also lending support thru its research and development program that aims to improve and expand the use of abaca and other natural fibers in making specialty paper and other high-end products.

As the world’s strongest natural fiber, abaca is currently a preferred raw material for various modern technologies employed in making ship and power transmission ropes, car interiors, well-drilling cables, furnishing, textile, as well as specialty and security paper. (Rizalina K. Araral/ 2 June 2020)#