Unknown to most Filipinos, abaca is a precious gold that has been overlooked for its inability to feed people. It is one of the most known natural plant fiber that has been maximized for carpet materials, teabags, banknotes, even face masks and hospital gowns. With the growing piles of synthetic fiber in the dumpsite that will sure take a long time to decompose, if taken a closer look, abaca could actually be a durable alternative in replacement for plastic.
Abaca is noted for its unique properties, which include high resistance to saltwater, durability, and versatility. It is known worldwide as Manila hemp – the Philippine’s premier fiber which has been the raw material used by pre-colonial Filipinos for their clothes and footwear and has dominated the global abaca trade for generations.
Here are 10 Things you most probably didn’t know about Abaca
- Abaca is a close relative of Banana.
Abaca comes from the Musaceae family (Musa textilis) which closely resembles the banana family (Musa sapientum). Both almost have the same growth habits, that’s why those who are not expert on plant species find it difficult to different one from the other. However, it is to note that the banana plant produces fiber which lacks the strength of abaca and the abaca plant is unable to produce a banana-like fruit – as its large black seeds are inedible and economically unimportant.
Also, unlike most fibers which is take from the leaf, the fiber of the abaca is taken from its leaf stalks called petioles. Unlike bananas, abaca is inedible and has been cultivated for the longest time only for fiber extraction purposes. It has been considered as one of the strongest natural fibers and is used for pulping, cordage, yarns, and fabrics.
- Although often called as Manila Hemp (or Cebu Hemp or Davao Hemp), abaca is actually not related to the real hemp.
The term Manila hemp is totally misleading because it is never related to the real hemp – the bast fiber extracted from the inner bark of the cannabis sativa. As we have known, it is extracted from the leaf sheath of Musa textilis. It is a native of the Philippines, with 14 varieties growing across the archipelago.
- Japanese money uses abaca.
Another fun fact unknown to many is that abaca pulp has been long used by Japanese for their banknotes. It is combined together with mitsuma (Oriental paperbush) and other fibers to give it a unique coloring and texture. Given that banknotes have to last for a long period of time, it has to be durable enough from passing, bending, folding, and all kinds of handling done by different kinds of people. Hence the utilization of abaca fiber.
- Abaca maximizes its waste as its own fertilizer.
Abaca does not usually use commercial fertilizer for cultivation as it maximizes its decaying materials for composting and fertilizing the soil where it grows. As only a small percent of the total plant becomes a fiber material that is good for the industry, the rest of its parts are left scattered on the ground. This in turn becomes the organic fertilizer of the soil where the next batch of abaca will grow.
- Mercedes Benz uses abaca for automobile parts.
Because of its extremely high mechanical strength as a fiber, as well as its length, Mercedes Benz has used a mixture of polypropylene thermoplastic and abaca yarn in its automobile parts. The world-class automobile company replaced glass fibers with natural fibers in order to reduce the weight of the automotive parts and thereby facilitate a more environmentally friendly production and recycling of parts.
- What you thought as paper was actually abaca.
Aside from ropes, fishing lines, and automotive parts, most of abaca’s fibers are pulped and processed into specialty papers which has taken the form coffee and tea bags, cigarette filter paper, medical disposal papers, high-quality writing paper, vacuum bags and many others.
- World-renowned French fashion designer Christian Louboutin used abaca for his tote bag collection.
After his visit in the Philippines to attend the Philippine Tatler Ball, French designer Christian Louboutin took inspiration from Manila for his bag collection and collaborated with the GREAT Women Brand Platform for his Italian-made bags named “Manilabaca” – a bag that features the traditional designs of T’nalak hand-woven made from abaca fibers.
- Abaca minimizes soil erosion and sedimentation.
Because of its unique properties, abaca can be maximized for erosion control and biodiversity rehabilitation by intercropping abaca in mono-cultured plantations of coconut palms and rainforest areas. This plant can help in improving the water-holding capacity of the soil during floods. Through this landslides can be further prevented.
- Abaca is the strongest material for marine cordage.
Before it was used for paper and automotive parts, for years, the Philippines has been exporting abaca fiber to be made into marine cordage. It has been well known as one of the strongest material because of its superior strength and durability under water.
- Companies are now making masks made from abaca to fight coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic may have closed several business these past few months, but there are those that thrive with the resources mad available to them. In fact, one paper company in the Philippines which was known in exporting greeting cards and paper to US and Europe has shifted to making masks because of the great demand these days.
On a preliminary study done by the Department of Science and Technology, it was found out that abaca paper is more water-resistant than the commonly used N-95 mask which has been recommended to filter hazardous particles.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the Philippines has been the world’s largest producer of abaca – supplying 85% of fiber around the world. If given much attention, abaca could take the Philippines to a much higher ground – if only.