Bicol’s agricultural renaissance

Bicol has gotten an early Christmas gift this year in the form of a scientific breakthrough. The bunchy top virus, which has long plagued abaca plantations, finally has a solution, thanks to the team of scientists from various agencies. What is even more astounding is that the solution was right under our noses the whole time: a wild banana species that is endemic to our region was discovered to have a bunchy top-resistant gene.
It is worth spelling out what this development means for Bicol. The region has long been exporting abaca, along with several other provinces such as Eastern Visayas and Davao. Our climate has long been identified as ideal for growing the plant whose fibers are prized the world over for its tensile strength and multitude of uses. However, many farmers have been discouraged from continuing to produce abaca as the plant is vulnerable to a number of diseases.
Among these is the bunchy top virus, which causes spots and stunted leaves, among others, damaging thousands of hectares of abaca plantations in a single year. Apart from the virus, there is also the mosaic and abaca bract mosaic viruses, which likewise threaten the productivity of abaca plantations, and subject of current research from the abovementioned agencies.
Now, with a solution for the bunchy top virus, more farmers in the Bicol region can once again take advantage of the optimal planting conditions to grow abaca for export. This is good news especially for farmers living in impoverished towns, as the new abaca hybrid may help draw them out of poverty.
Already, the Fiber Industry Development Authority has recognized Bicol’s potential. Last year, the region was named the top producer of abaca, surpassing Eastern Visayas and Davao. Now, with Eastern Visayas wiped out from the super typhoon, Bicol has an even greater chance of securing a higher market share. Bicol is poised on the brink of success. However, it would need a lot of support from the various sectors in society for it to take the first step into what may be an agricultural renaissance.


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