The fibres are extracted from the leaf sheath around the trunk of the abaca plant (Musa textilis), a close relative of the banana, native to the Philippines and widely distributed in the humid tropics. Harvesting abaca is labourious. Each stalk must be cut into strips which are scraped to remove the pulp. The fibres are then washed and dried.
Abaca is a leaf fibre, composed of long slim cells that form part of the leaf’s supporting structure. Lignin content is a high 15%. Abaca is prized for its great mechanical strength, buoyancy, resistance to saltwater damage, and long fibre length – up to 3 m. The best grades of abaca are fine, lustrous, light beige in colour and very strong.
In 2007, the Philippines produced about 60 000 tonnes of Abaca fibre, while Ecuador produced 10 000 tonnes. World production is valued at around $30 million a year.
Source: FAO 2009