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Saluyot now a popular vegetable worldwide

March 17, 2010

By Danny O. Calleja
GoodNews Pilipinas
First Posted 09:56:00 02/15/2010

MANILA, Philippines—The “saluyot,” a highly nutritious leafy vegetable that is commonly cooked by Filipino peasants with bamboo shoots, is now an internationally known Philippine agricultural crop for its premium, earth-friendly fabric
Known as jute leaves called “famine food” by Africans because of its being a vegetable of last resort during droughts, the plant, with its fiber made a debut on the fashion ramp last year when unveiled by the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) during a conference in celebration of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) International Year of Natural Fibers.

“We have weaved 80 percent polyester with 20 percent spinned saluyot fibers to make smooth fabrics; the mix can go as high as 40 percent saluyot that has been treated to make fiber,” PTRI Director Carlos Tomboc said in a statement.

To make an all-natural blend, saluyot may also be weaved with cotton and is ideal for curtains and drapes, beddings, table runners and linens, as well as burlaps for nets, ropes, and geotextiles against soil erosion, Tomboc said.

Saluyot stems soaked in water for about three weeks yield at least five percent fibers that passed textile tests for fineness, tensile strength, and residual gum properties, he added.

A part of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the PTRI in recent years has concentrated on research and development of saluyot, maguey, water hyacinth, abaca, anabo, banana, kenaf, pineapple, and ramie as fabrics.

Having established the procedures for mechanical and chemical pretreatment, yarn and fabric processing, the PTRI has commercialized the technologies for abaca, banana, and pineapple fibers and is ready to do the same for saluyot, water hyacinth, and maguey.

Water hyacinth grows in almost all of the country’s freshwater bodies. It is so prolific in fact that the plant is considered a “weed” because it clogs waterways and kills aquatic life in rivers and lakes.

Maguey grows wild in northern Luzon, Cebu, and Panay. It is used in cordage, ropes, twines, carpets, wall coverings, crafts, and handmade paper.

It is also planted on 500 hectares, mostly in Bohol but production has declined because of inefficient fiber extraction and dwindling fiber supply due to old, sparsely planted or abandoned plantations. It takes four years from planting to harvesting while production returns are low.

The PTRI is about to drastically change the status of these seemingly lowly plants to reverse the sliding textile industry owing to stiff competition from China, cheaper fabrics from abroad, imported raw materials, local labor unrest, higher production costs, and widespread smuggling, Tomboc said.

Substituting just a fourth of imported textile with local tropical fabrics means foreign exchange savings for the Philippines of P6.72 million, according to Nora Mangalindan, head of research and development at PTRI.

“The world textile industry has been devoid of new natural textiles for 15 years now and it is a great opportunity for tropical fibers made in the Philippines,” Mangalindan said.

About 99 percent of textiles currently used are synthetic. Natural cotton, mostly from Mindanao, is sporadic and supplies less than three percent of demand from textile mills.

The use of tropical fabrics is required by law to compose at least three percent of government uniforms. When implemented fully, this could mean import substitutions of 481 metric tons of fibers worth P7.8 million.

Mangalindan said, the Philippines has some 30 useful fiber crops, of which abaca, ramie, coconut coir, salago, maguey, buntal, raffia, kapok, pina, banana, kozo, kenaf, and silk have commercial applications.

About 143,585 hectares are currently planted to fiber crops–94.7 percent or 135,958 hectares to abaca and the rest to ramie, salago, burl, maguey, mulberry, and other fiber crops.

Fiber production in 2005 was 79,131 metric tons worth P2.65 billion, a steep increase over P2 billion in 2004. High abaca demand in 2005 caused fiber exports to rise to P4.99 billion, compared to P4.35 billion the previous year.

In 2005, abaca accounted for 93 percent representing 73,875 tons worth P2.61 billion, or 98 percent of the take.

For all its worth, abaca is plagued by low farm income productivity due to pests and diseases, inconsistent fiber quality, limited markets, and relatively high prices.

The country’s dominance is threatened by Indonesia’s massive abaca plantations and the expansion of abaca farms in Ecuador.

There are low-volume, high-value tropical fibers. Pineapple for example, has an edge because it is high-end with upscale niche markets that demand exquisite and hand-woven products.

Pineapple fiber, mostly from Aklan and Camarines Norte, is used for barong, panuelos, gowns, handkerchiefs, table linens, table napkins, table cloth, pillow cases fans, and other household items.

Then there is raffia which can replace cord, grass, leaves, fabric, ribbon, stuffing, floral string, and even paper. Hats, mats, baskets, bags, and twine are also made from raffia.
Last year, because of increased demand, raffia production in Quezon surpassed the output of Aklan, the major producer.

Salago, farmed in Cebu, Bohol, and Negros Oriental, is used for handmade paper, stencil paper, currency paper, check paper, Japanese kimono, and Japanese sliding door (shoji), as well as components for radio and computers.

Its production however fluctuates due to a two-year harvesting cycle but exports earnings average $531,498 per year. Taiwan is the biggest buyer.

Demand for coconut coir meanwhile is improving with local purchases from upholstery and mattress makers as well as for panel board, organic compost, vehicle upholstery, insulator pads against erosion and as biodegradable cover for soil regeneration.

Sourcing husks remains a problem due to high freight cost and lack of drying facilities and high density baling press, Mangalindan said.

Worldwide, she said, some 30 million tons of natural fibers are produced annually but have lost market share to synthetic fibers. The International Year of Natural Fibers aimed to promote them as viable crops for farmers.

Cotton, which is pure cellulose, is the world’s most widely used natural fiber and still the undisputed “king” of the global textiles industry. Around 25 million tons of cotton is produced worldwide each year, a volume four times greater than that all other natural fibers combined.

China, the United States, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Brazil are the main producers.

Jute, the strong threads made from jute fiber, is used worldwide in sackcloth. One of nature’s strongest vegetable fibers, it is second only to cotton in terms of production quantity and range of uses.

Sackcloth makes up the bulk of manufactured products but it is now made into floor coverings, jute composites, geotextiles, non-wovens, paper pulp, technical textiles, chemical products, apparel, handicrafts, and fashion accessories.

India produces 60 percent of the world’s jute, with Bangladesh accounting for most of the rest.

Flax is much stronger than cotton and used in clothing, bed and bath fabrics and household furnishings. It is grown in more than 30 countries led by China, the Russian Federation, Belarus, and France. Almost one million tons are produced each year, with the finest linen produced in Belgium, Ireland, and Italy.

Ramie, white with a silky luster, is one of the strongest natural fibers, similar to flax in absorbency and density. Usually blended with cotton and wool, it increases the luster and strength of cotton fabric, and reduces shrinkage in wool blends. Almost all are grown in China.

Hemp is a non-drug relative of marijuana. Its recent “cottonization” could open the door to the high quality clothing market. A clothing, cordage, and paper material, hemp is increasingly used in construction and as bioplastics in automobile panels.

Almost half of the world’s industrial hemp is grown in China, followed by Chile, France, North Korea, and Spain.

Sisal, too coarse for clothing and upholstery, is replacing asbestos and fiberglass in many composite materials and is found in specialty paper, filters, geotextiles, mattresses, carpets, and wall coverings. The major producers are Brazil, Tanzania, and Kenya.

“Through saluyot, the Philippines adds its contributions to fiber production worldwide. Abaca, ramie, pineapple, and coconut coir are the early contributions of the country to this area of agricultural products for industrial uses,” Mangalindan said.

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