Also called manila hemp, abaca is 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 labor intensive as each stalk must be cut into strips which are scraped to remove the pulp. The fibers are then washed and dried.
Erosion control and biodiversity rehabilitation can be assisted by intercropping abaca in former monoculture plantations and rainforest areas, particularly with coconut palms. Planting abaca can also minimize erosion and sedimentation problems in coastal areas which are important breeding places for sea fishes. The water holding capacity of the soil will be improved and floods and landslides will also be prevented. Abaca waste materials are used as organic fertilizer.
During the 19th century abaca was widely used for ships' rigging, and pulped to make sturdy manila envelopes. Today, we still use Abaca to make ropes, twines, fishing lines and nets, as well as coarse cloth for sacking. There is also a flourishing niche market for abaca clothing, curtains, screens and furnishings, but paper-making is currently the main use of the fiber.