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3 natural fiber sources tapped

March 19, 2010

Agri Plain Talk


December 4, 2009, 2:30pm

The technology to commercially tap three nontraditional sources of natural fiber has been developed by the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI), an agency of the Department of Science and Technology headed by Dr. Carlos Tomboc.

The three sources are maguey, saluyot and water hyacinth better known locally as water lily. Products made of these natural fibers were showcased last Wednesday at the national conference on natural fibers held at a Makati hotel.

The products include materials for making barong, lady’s dresses, handbags, home decors, accessories and many other products made of fabric. The fibers can also be manufactured into nonwoven fabrics which have various applications in industry like insulating or sound-proofing materials in rooms and car interiors.

Maguey has long been produced in the Ilocos and Pangasinan but the farmers mainly used it for making ropes, and retting was done by soaking the split leaves of the plant in the river.  Today, under the PTRI technology, the fiber is extracted by a decorticating machine and passes through a chemical and mechanical process.

The saluyot, a favorite vegetable of Ilocanos, is also a good source of natural fiber. One hectare of saluyot can yield 10 tons of green stems from which a half ton of natural fibers can be extracted. According to Nora Mangalindan of PTRI, a total of 692 hectares are planted to saluyot mostly in Pangasinan and Western Visayas. These produce some 2,000 tons of fresh leaves used as vegetables. The area currently devoted to saluyot has a potential of producing 346 tons of natural fiber.

In the case of water hyacinth, a fiber recovery of 1.7 percent is possible. Considered more as a nuisance in bodies of water, it reproduces rapidly. The plant can double its volume in just two weeks.

The natural fibers are blended with some other fabrics like silk, polyester and other synthetic materials. For instance, PTRI had initially produced polyester yarns containing 20 to 35 percent water hyacinth fiber.

Meanwhile PTRI Deputy Director Raul Sabularse presented at the conference a roadmap for the Philippine Tropical Fabric and handwoven textiles. The initial focus is to promote these fabrics in the local market and then to the export market when local supply will be more substantial. Even if there is a big demand abroad today, there is not enough supply to meet the big volumes needed. What is important is for more entrepreneurs to invest in the production of these natural fibers and development of novel products using them.

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