A raw material sourced from a type of banana plant, Musa textilis, is now in high demand due to the global shortage of one of the most important tools against the coronavirus pandemic — personal protective equipment (PPE). Locally known as abaca, it has been one of the country’s top traditional cash crops for decades, along with sugar and tobacco, and appears to be making a comeback as the world rushes to produce more PPE.
Even before the pandemic, there was a supply deficit of 100,000 to 125,000 metric tons for abaca, which the Philippines exports to manufacturers of specialty non-woven fabrics in Europe, China and Japan. The sturdy fiber is ideal for making face masks, lab gowns, and head and shoe covers.
Notably, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Region 10 has recently conducted a test on abaca filtration and absorption, and results showed that the abaca fiber mask has a filtration rate 7 times better than cloth masks and has lower water absorption than N95 masks.
At present, the Philippines only has 142,000 ha of land dedicated to growing hemp, with an average fiber yield per hectare of 0.54 MT. Of the country’s 81 provinces, 51 have abaca farms. However, the Philippines remains the world’s leading abaca producer with about 90,000 farmers involved in its cultivation. The sector contributes PHP 4.7 billion (USD 93 million) to the economy annually and supplies 85 percent of the world’s abaca requirement.
(Sources: ABS-CBN; Inquirer.Net; Rappler)