Abaca Farming Done Right

Farmers thrive along with the plants when sustainability certification is introduced.

Abaca, also referred to as Manila hemp, is a particularly strong fiber extracted from the leaf sheath around the trunk of the abaca plant, which is a close relative of the banana. But the Catanduanes Abaca Sustainability Initiative (CASI) farms that supply most of Glatfelter’s sustainability-certified fiber are nothing like traditional banana plantations that use intensive agricultural techniques that require clearing native vegetation from huge tracts of land and then densely planting and fertilizing the crops. Not only does this method damage the local environment, it also poses health risks to the agricultural workers.

Abaca is a native plant in the Philippines, so when produced in its natural habitat on relatively small farms, it thrives without the use of large quantities of pesticides and insecticides that can destroy the area’s delicate ecosystem and pose health risks for farmers. Planting abaca can also minimize erosion and sedimentation problems in coastal areas, and the waste materials from the stripping process are composted and used as organic fertilizer. Farming in compliance with Rainforest Alliance standards as adopted by the CASI program helps to conserve the area’s rich biodiversity, mitigate climate change, and improve the lives of the 120,000 smallholder family farms.

“Buyers in our niche markets are willing to pay a premium price for sustainably sourced abaca fiber, and the smallholder farmers are able to reap the economic benefits. Sustainability certification ensures that they have the income they need,” explains Bernd Seger, head of the Fiber Competence Center, Fiber Management, for Glatfelter’s Composite Fibers Business Unit. Glatfelter has supported the certification program by organizing and training the farmers, paying for the certification audits, and providing medical assistance, educational support, and social programs.

Currently, much of the abaca fiber that Glatfelter is producing is used for tea bags and coffee filters. Companies supplying Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, or other sustainably certified tea and coffee especially prefer to use packaging that is also sustainably certified.