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Abaca: Culture and Management

By goGreen | August 4, 2011
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This fibre is also known in the trade as manila and manila hemp. This plant is being harvested for its fibre. This fibre was originally used for making twines and ropes; now most abaca is pulped and used in a variety of specialized paper products including tea bags,  filter paper and banknotes. It is classified as a hard fibre, along with coir, henequen and sisal.

Abaca fibre is valued for its exceptional strength, flexibility, buoyancy, and resistance to damage in salt water. These qualities make the fibre exceptionally suitable for marine cordage. Abaca is chiefly employed for ships’ ropes, hawsers, and cables and for fishing lines, hoisting and power-transmission ropes, well-drilling cables, and fishing nets. Some abaca is used in carpets, table mats, and paper. The plant’s inner fibres can be used without spinning to manufacture lightweight, strong fabrics, mainly used locally for garments, hats, and shoes.

Today, abaca is produced commercially in only three countries: Philippines, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. The Philippines remain the world’s largest producer of abaca.  The abaca plant to the naked eye can easily be mistaken for a regular banana plant – without the fruit.

Land Preparation

The land is cleared during the dry months of the year to prepare for the eventual planting at the onset of the rainy season. Grasses and vines are cut first then plowed. The first plowing should be shallow to bring the weeds just at the proper depth for germination then followed by deep plowing 10 to 14 days to kill the germinated weeds before harrowing.


Materials for propagation should be chosen carefully. The source of seedpieces must be from healthy or pest and disease free high yielding varieties. The sucker or whole plant and the corm or rootstocks are the two types of planting material.

Time of Planting

Planting is best done during the onset of the rainy season since dry periods can stunt the normal growth and development of young plants.

Methods of Planting

The square method is commonly used in the Bicol region. In the square method, hills are set apart in equal distances. If the farm is fully planted, plants should be spaced at 2.5 x 2.5 meters apart with 1,600 hills accommodated in a hectare.

In the double row or avenue method, abaca are planted in two rows at about 1.5 x 1.5 meters apart with a distance of 2.5 meters from each set. Cash crops like peanut, soybeans and others can be intercropped in this method.

In the Quincunx or triangle method, 1852 hills are planted in a hectare with hills set at a distance of 2 x 2 meters.

Shade Establishment

Abaca plantations should be provided with shade trees to prevent excessive heat from damaging the plants and serve as windbreaks since typhoons in the Bicol Region are frequent. Permanent shade trees such as anii, dapdap, ipil-ipil and temporary shade trees like katuray and madre de cacao are recommended. Shade trees provide and maintain a favorable temperature for abaca. They also conserve soil moisture and prevent weed growth to a certain degree.


Abaca, like other perennial crops, occupies the same land for several cropping years. The same crop is harvested year after year resulting to the gradual removal of the essential nutrients from the soil. When the supply of these nutrient elements are not replenished, the soil gradually looses its fertility.

Abaca requires large amounts of nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) but less of phosphorus (P). About 40 % of the ash from abaca fiber is potassium.

Nitrogen greatly improves its growth and suckering ability while Potassium increases the tensile strength of its fiber.


For established plantations, annual application of 187.5 grams per hill or 12 bags per hectare of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) every year is recommended. Fertilizer is applied in split of equal doses annually. Fertilizer is applied in a ring one foot away from the base of the pseudostems, the area where the roots are shallow.

Cleaning and Mulching

The removal of dried leaves is necessary because they are fire hazards in the plantation, they serve as favorable media for fungal,, bacterial and insect growth and they impede the growth of suckers by limiting sunlight penetration thus, making regular inspections and indexing difficult.

Dried or yellowing leaves must be severed from the stalks with the use of a double-bladed scythe attached to a long pole. Old and yellowing leaves are cut at the petiole further from the stalk so that the leafsheaths are kept fresh. The cut leaves are laid on the space between hills and used as mulching materials to preserve soil moisture and inhibit the growth of weeds.

Weed Control

Weeds are not much of a problem in a well-established and maintained abaca plantation. The tall plants shade the grounds such that weed growth is effectively checked or minimized. However, if weeds are abundant, they can be easily controlled manually or mechanically by handweeding, plowing or underbrushing at 2 to 3 months interval or as necessary.


Stalks are harvested three to five months before the flagleaf appears. Abaca growth has been observed to slow down a few months before flagleaf appearance. The practice in the region is to harvest abaca twice a year. A longer interval may result in overmatured stalks which consequently yields fibers of low quantity and poor quality.

Three steps are involved in the harvesting of abaca, the cleaning, topping and tumbling. In cleaning, the area surrounding the base of the stalk is cleared of dried leaves, grasses and other weeds. Thinning of floaters and spindly suckers and cutting afflicted plants and dead stalks are also done during cleaning

Topping is done with the use of a curved knife fastened at the tip of a long pole and then cutting the leaves. It eases harvesting and minimizes the damage to follower stalks in the surrounding area.

Tumbling, on the otherhand, is done using a sharp tumbling bolo. A smooth and slanting cut is made on the stalk about 5 cm from the last leaf scar to prevent the accumulation of sap. The topped stalks are then tumbled by cutting them close to the ground with the direction of the cut portion inclined towards the base.


Sources: Wigglesworth fibresWikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, http://bicol.da.gov.ph/Opportunities/abaca%20profile/topic5.html


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