A large scale abaca planting program is now being undertaken in Oriental Mindoro with an eventual 5,000 hectares to be covered in Baco and other towns, it was learned from Dante Delima, operations manager of Agri-Tech Integrated Services Company (ATISCO). Dir. Edel Dondonilla of DA-PhilFIDA Region 4A and the office of Oriental Mindoro Gov.Boy Umali are their partners in implementing the project.
ATISCO is a satellite company under the giant Yazaki-Torres Company, a joint venture of Japanese and Filipino investors headed by Feliciano Torres. ATISCO is into other agricultural projects that include mechanized rice production, vegetable and fruit production, and others.
The Mindoro abaca project does not involve cutting forest trees in the ancestral lands to give way to abaca plantations. The idea is planting abaca suckers between existing forest trees and other crops. After all, abaca will thrive under partial shade of other plants.
So far, ATISCO has provided 10,000 suckers of four abaca varieties for the indigenous people (Mangyans) to plant. The arrangement is for the recipients of the planting materials to give back three suckers for every sucker received after one year. The suckers will then be distributed to other farmers interested in planting abaca.
ATISCO will buy all the extracted fiber at an agreed price that is deemed profitable for the farmers. The company has made a memorandum of agreement with a Japanese trading company based in Bicol that will also buy all the fibers that ATISCO can supply. Delima revealed that there is a new use for abaca fiber that will require big quantities of the product. Ordinarily, abaca fiber is being used to produce banknotes and other specialty papers. Now, there is a much bigger market for abaca fiber which include the so-called JK grade (not first class). It has been found lately, according to Delima, that abaca fiber is an excellent insulating material for electronic products.
ATISCO is already buying abaca fiber that is available in Mindoro. In its first purchase several months ago, it bought from one sitio more than P100,000-worth of abaca fiber. He said that the amount was a big boost to the purchasing power of the residents in the small community.
With the increased production when the new plantings will become productive, they expect to buy at least three tons of fiber every week. The project will provide more and more jobs for the indigenous people, including the women who have been trained to strip the fibers with a simple “toothed” bolo-like instrument.
Right now, ATISCO is conducting seminars on how to take care of the abaca plants, teaching them also how to strip the harvested pseudostems, drying and classifying the fiber.
There are other opportunities for enterprising individuals. For instance, they can specialize in the production of suckers for sale. According to Delima, they pay P25 per sucker. Aside from ATISCO, there may be other individuals who would want to expand their plantings so they will eventually make more money. These are the possible buyers of abaca suckers aside from ATISCO.
ATISCO is not only eyeing Mindoro as its only growing area. In fact, it is eyeing Aurora province as the next growing area. They are already talking to organizations in the province who can be their partners in the project. ATISCO will also buy all the fibers they will produce.