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UPLB symposium on PH abaca fiber raises aid for abaca farmers in typhoon-hit Catanduanes

  • Written by  Harlene May Viesca
  • Published in News

The University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) through the Abaca Genomics Project and in partnership with the UPLB Agapay and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension (OVCRE) started an online fundraising symposium to support abaca farmers who have been severely affected by Super Typhoon Rolly.

“AHHH-BAKA NAMAN: A Virtual Fund-Raising Symposium for Abaca Farmers in Catanduanes” held on 15 December 2020 also aimed to raise public awareness on the Philippines’ abaca fiber industry.

The four speakers tackled the Abaca Genomics Project, abaca textile research and development, abaca hybrid technologies, and the damages and losses in the agricultural sector and abaca industry.

As Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension Merdelyn Lit welcomed the participants, she emphasized that it is “a pioneering initiative” and “an innovative developmental extension that is very relevant in this time of pandemic.”

The Abaca Genomics Project

On behalf of Dr. Antonio Laurena, Mr. Carl Libayao presented their Abaca Genomics Project composed of two phases that began in 2012 and 2019.

The first phase “Abaca Functional Genomics: High Throughput Discovery of Genes and Molecular Markers'' and the second phase “Abaca Genomics Project: Whole Genome Sequencing and Genome-wide Association Studies of Selected Varieties of the Endemic Philippine Abaca (Musa textilis Nee)” are both crucial in developing abaca varieties with high fiber quality and abaca bunchy top virus (ABTV) resistance.

The project currently has a total of 74 abaca collections from 11 sites across the country.

The second phase, led by Dr. Laurena together with study leaders Dr. Maria Genaleen Diaz and Dr. Antonio Lalusin, is being implemented at the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) under the UPLB College of Agriculture and Food Science (CAFS) until June 2022.

Mr. Carl Libayao talked about the Abaca Genomics Project on behalf of project leader Antonio Laurena.

The Abaca Genomics Project is funded by the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD) in collaboration with the UPLB Philippine Genome Center (PGC) – Agriculture Program.

Dr. Laurena is a UPLB research professor who has led several research projects on various crops such as sugarcane, pineapple, and coconut. He has greatly contributed to the fields of plant biochemistry and agricultural chemistry.

The Philippine Abaca Textile Research and Development

Ms. Jenneli S. Espolita-Caya, second speaker, highlighted the abaca textile research and development efforts of the DOST- Philippine Textile Research Institute (DOST-PTRI). She also discussed the classifications of textile fibers, process of textile technology for abaca, and abaca-derived products such as the resin-less fiber and electrospun nanofiber.

The Fiber Treatment is DOST-PTRI’s patented technology used in transforming raw abaca fiber into a processable textile material. It is also compatible with machines like the cotton staple spinning system that converts cotton fiber into yarns, and the long staple spinning system that converts wool and other longer fibers into yarns.

Ms. Espolita-Caya emphasized, “You don’t need to reinvent the whole textile machinery realm, it utilizes existing machines commonly found in mills such as the cotton staple spinning system and the long staple spinning system.”

Ms. Espolita-Caya discussed the flow of DOST-PTRI’s textile technology for abaca.

According to Ms. Espolita-Caya, community players and the workforce can be integrated into the fiber transformation process -- from pseudostem collection to fabric conversion. This can then “sustain the textile industry from raw materials all the way to fabric and even garment manufacturing.”

Ms. Espolita-Caya also mentioned their previous study on the Backcross Abaca with Native and Desirable Accessions to Lift Up the Abaca Industry (BANDALA) hybrid, as a new natural fiber that can be used in textile manufacturing. The study was conducted together with PCAARRD, DOST - Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI), and DOST - Philippine Nuclear Research Institute.

“We are at PTRI, we believe that we are more than a country of raw material. It is high time that we all work together to utilize our own resources into higher valued products made by the Filipinos and for the Philippines,” she added.

In an effort to connect technology development with commercialization, they recently launched a retail-based approach in providing cotton-abaca yarn and fabric to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The agency is also gearing for the commercialization of the 100% needle-punched, non-woven textile material.

Ms. Espolita-Caya is a Senior Science Research Specialist at DOST-PTRI and has been a project leader for ten years. Her research interests include cellulose chemistry, natural fiber, textile materials, nanofiber technology, and biochemical engineering.

PTRI is the “premier textile research and development arm” of DOST that conducts applied research and development for the textile industry sector, transfers completed research to linkage units of other government agencies and to end-users, and provides technical services and training programs.

Abaca Hybrid Technologies

Dr. Antonio Lalusin who is from the IPB and the UPLB Institute of Crop Science shared the efforts of UPLB’s IPB and Institute of Crop Science in developing ABTV-resistant abaca hybrids. He discussed the history and milestones of abaca breeding in the university, conventional breeding of abaca hybrids, generation of Backcross (BC) 2 hybrids, BANDALA tissue culture, and the multi-location trials of abaca hybrids.

Although abaca breeding in UPLB date back to the 1920s, Dr. Lalusin said that it was only in 1956 when the virus-resistant wild banana pacol was used as a breeding parental for the first generation (F1) abaca hybrid. Backcrossing was then done to continuously increase abaca’s genomic contribution -- developing the BC 1 with 75% in late 1980s, BC 2 with 75% in late 2000s, and BC 3 with 92.25% abaca genome in 2008.

Dr. Lalusin emphasized that “Backcross 2 abaca is resistant, at the same time, the fiber quality is more or less comparable to abaca,” from which they have selected BANDALA as the best BC 2 hybrid. They then evaluated the hybrids planted in different universities in Laguna, Catanduanes, Albay, Leyte, Samar, Butuan, North Cotabato, Davao del Norte, and Zamboanga.

Dr. Lalusin compared the abaca fiber color and quality of Catanduanes’ traditional variety and the BANDALA.

“We can see the differences in the fiber quality and even the color. So that’s why Ms. Jen Caya is very proud in using BANDALA as a source of fibers for textile,” Dr. Lalusin said. He also added that DOST-FPRDI has already found BANDALA’s suitability for pulp and paper use because of its “smooth and fine fibers.”

Concluding his talk, Dr. Lalusin said that the BANDALA hybrid has outstanding agronomic performance and its resistance to ABTV is not weakening as compared to traditional varieties.

Dr. Lalusin is a UPLB professor who has pioneered several breeding projects, notably the virus-resistant and high fiber quality abaca. He is one of the study leaders of the Abaca Genomics Project Phase 2, and is currently pursuing the genomics research for abaca breeding under the leadership of Dr. Laurena.

Losses and Damages in the Catanduanes Abaca Industry

One of the speakers, Ms. Alicia Ilaga, presented various statistics on the losses and damages in agriculture according to hazard types, the climate hazard-related losses in abaca production, and the programs, services, and interventions launched by the Department of Agriculture (DA).

According to the Philippine Abaca Industry Roadmap 2018-2022, the Philippines is the world’s leading abaca fiber supplier and 35% of its total production comes from Catanduanes province in Bicol region.

Unfortunately, Super Typhoon Rolly’s damage to Catanduanes’ abaca industry was estimated at P1.296 billion, or around 93% of the total agricultural damage. Ms. Ilaga also reported that abaca production loss in Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Albay, and Sorsogon is at P1.02 billion.

“Makikita natin dito na ang nakaka-apekto sa abaca production ay mga super typhoon o typhoon, hindi na yung iba pang mga climate-related hazards (We can see that abaca production suffered more from typhoons or super typhoons than the rest of the climate-related hazards),” she added.

The DA also created its flagship program, Adaptation and Mitigation Initiative in Agriculture (AMIA), to address climate change. It implements technologies and practices, introduces institutional and social innovations, and provides climate-relevant support services to the agriculture and fisheries sectors in 77 established villages nationwide. Ms. Ilaga said that she hopes for the DA to build an AMIA village in Catanduanes.

The agency also formed the DA - Climate Resilient Agriculture Office (DA-CRAO) to work on building a climate-resilient Philippine agriculture. They also constructed the National Color-Coded Agriculture Guide, an interactive map showing 20 naturally-suitable and economically-important crops in relation to 8 climate change-induced hazards in the country.

Director Ilaga presented the National Color-Coded Agricultural Guide that can help barangays towards smarter and climate-resilient agriculture practices.

DA has also been releasing climate- and weather-informed advisories to guide farmers and fishers on climate-resilient agriculture (CRA) practices, risk reduction measures, impact outlooks, and support services that they can avail of. Ms. Ilaga ended her talk by citing DA Secretary William Dar, “The Department of Agriculture allotted P8.5 billion to enable typhoon-affected farmers, fishers to recover and start anew.”

Ms. Ilaga is the director of DA-CRAO and the DA deputy spokesperson. She has 26 years of experience in developing, managing, and directing programs on livelihood, agricultural financing, biotechnology, climate change, and countryside development.

Before closing the symposium, Mr. John Ivan Pasquil of the Abaca Genomics Project formally opened the donation drive that will provide aid to abaca farmers in Catanduanes. Monetary donations will be welcomed until 22 December 2020.

Student Activities Director Maria Rowena Beatriz Inzon formally closed the symposium, and briefly talked about the UPLB Agapay and its most recent efforts. “The target here (in the UPLB Agapay program) is not just for the response but also for the recovery and rehabilitation efforts.” She said that the “scattered efforts will be harmonized to deliver effective and efficient public service”.

The UPLB Agapay “aims to be a long-term central platform for coordinating UPLB’s response before, during, and after natural calamities and socio-economic distress.”

It is convened by the UPLB Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, UPLB Ugnayan ng Pahinungod, Serve the People Brigade UPLB, All UP Academic Employees Union - Los Baños, and the University Student Councils.

The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs, Office of Alumni Relations, Office of Public Relations, All U.P. Workers Union Chapter, and other units are also coordinating with them.

Monetary donations can be sent to the GCash account 0953-308-1839 until 22 December 2020.