The Philippine national flower is Sampaguita, the national tree is Nara, the national leaf is Anahaw, the national animal is Carabao and the national bird is the Philippine Eagle.

But what is the national plant? There is none listed.

My brother, Kidapawan City Vice Mayor Jun Piñol, a former Congressman of North Cotabato who authored the Philippine Agricultural Mechanization Law, is proposing that Congress should pass a law declaring Abaca as the national plant.

He argued that not only does Abaca naturally grow naturally only in the Philippines, it also produces a fibre which is considered as the strongest natural fibre in the world.

Indeed, while at least three countries now - Costa Rica, Ecuador and Indonesia - are starting to grow it, Abaca is native to the Philippines and there no other known place in the world which grows it.

It is distinctly Filipino.

There is a great symbolism in the strength of its fibre because it reflects the strength of the Filipino spirt and the resilience of the people in times of hardship and calamity.

Abaca fibre commands a high price now in the market - up to P90 per kilo and an hectare could yield up to 2 metric tons - because the industry has largely been ignored and neglected by the government and mainly because the lack of research and technology in disease control led to the collapse of the industry after a disease called "Bunchy Top" destroyed large farms all over the country.

Abaca fiber is used originally for marine cordage and weaving of indigenous clothing materials like the famous Tinalak of the Tboli tribe of South Cotabato.

Now, it is used to print paper money, security papers, cards, handicrafts and car roofing and dashboards.

Abaca could be easily grown under coconut trees and even in marginal lands all over the country. It could provide farmers with additional sources of income from their land even when planted only as a secondary crop.

The Dept. of Agriculture (DA) now is supporting the revival and rehabilitation of the Abaca Industry in the country with an initial funding P100-M for the establishment of a nursery in Sogod, Southern Leyte to serve the needs of farmers in the islands of Leyte and Samar.

I have also committed a P50-M fund for the establishment of an Abaca nursery and research center in Kidapawan City to serve the needs of farmers in the Central Mindanao area including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Soon, we will expand to the Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Luzon, Panay Island, Palawan and Mindoro.

Just how large is the Abaca market?

Abaca advocate Alberto Fenix said the market is almost unlimited given the fact that only the Philippines is producing it in large quantity.

In fact, there is a shortage right now. The market needs about 140,000 metric tons every year and the Philippines is only producing 60,000 this year.

To produce 140,000 metric tons, at least 70,000 hectares of land should be planted to Abaca with a planting density of 1,500 saplings per hectare.

The market could even be greater if, along the declaration of Abaca as National Plant, a law would also be passed which would require that all Philippine official documents like passports and travel documents, business licenses, NBI and Police Clearances, Birth and Death Certificates, Graduation Diplomas, Land Titles and Bonds, be printed using Abaca pulp and fiber as material.

With a population of 105 million growing at a rate of 1.9% every year, tens of thousands of Abaca pulp and fiber would be needed for birth and death certificates and graduation diplomas alone.

That would mean income for farmers in the countryside.

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