How 'cocolisap' infestation threatens Philippines

by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 09 2014 09:15 PM | Updated as of Jun 14 2014 06:57 PM

Pangilinan: P200M lost to 'cocolisap' infestation

MANILA - The local coconut industry has lost at least P200 million because of the the so-called "cocolisap" infestation.

Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan on Monday said the losses are mounting.

“Last year, ang datos po nila almost P200 million (losses). Inaverage out iyong yield loss, mga 60 percent ang bagsak. Sometimes it’s 100 percent kapag talagang nadali na iyong puno; sometimes it’s as low as 25 percent kung ito po ay moderate ang kanyang infestation," he said, describing the infestation on coconut plantations. "But they average out at 60 percent, 58 percent ang yield loss. So, ang total for last year based on the data was around P180 million yield loss for the industry."

If the infestation is left unchecked, Pangilinan said losses may go up to billions of pesos. "If left without intervention, you will have P12 billion losses in Region 4, another P13 billion losses in Region 5 and around P7 billion losses, potential losses [in Region 9], with a 58 percent decrease."

"In other words, 60 percent decrease. Based on our experience dito sa Calabarzon (Cavite/Laguna/Batangas/Rizal/Quezon), kung bumagsak ng 60 percent ang yield, ‘yan po ang magiging pigura," Pangilinan said.

Pangilinan said the problem involves the pests moving to other areas. "Meaning, lumilipat. We have from 2010 to 2014, based on the data, the pest moves 400 meters a month. It can also transport itself even quicker kung ito ay dinadala by way of transporting the goods."

He gave examples. "Meron tayong naging karanasan, halimbawa, from Batangas biglang sumulpot at lumabas sa Cavinti, Laguna. Outside of the normal 400 meters a month traveling bigla hong nagkaroon ng reports. At ang kanilang conclusion is that somebody transported infested products from Batangas to Cavinti, Laguna. Also in Polilio Island, for example, which is an island, meron na ring infestation and that confirms precisely the theory or the belief, which is established also by science, that it’s airborne."

The losses are not limited to coconuts anymore, as the infestation also affected other crops that are used in multi-cropping.

This, however doesn’t mean government will avoid multi-cropping altogether.

"Pati po ang produkto ng mangosteen at saka lanzones, merong kalahating milyong mga puno na apektado na rin. And the treatment there will be different. Ang gagamitin po natin diyan is organic [pesticide] --- organic spraying, hindi ho chemical. And multi-cropping, I guess, eventually ganun pa rin ang solusyon. Temporarily, in certain areas where infestation is severe, it would not be advisable to plant new crops kasi nga baka siya ay mahaluan din at mahawa," Pangilinan said.

OTHER AREAS THREATENED

He said other areas threatened, aside from areas already infested, are Region 4-B (Mimaropa), Region 5, and the Zamboanga Peninsula.

“Dapat din natin sigurong malaman na ang kulisap na ito, ang infestation ay nakita na po sa Tagkawayan, Quezon. Ito po ang huling bayan bago po ng Camarines Norte. Ibig sabihin kung hindi ho tayo magkakaroon ng masusing pag-intervene o pag-treat at pag-manage po nito ay pati ho ang Bicol region apektado," he warned.

"Bakit po mayroong threatened areas? Dahil itong kulisap na ito ay ang biyahe po niya pwede siyang bumiyahe ng airborne. Ibig sabihin pwede po siyang lumipat via air. Pwede rin po siyang lumipat because nga iyong mga produktong niyog, ‘pag ito ay merong infestation ay pwede ring lumipat by way of transporting these products. So we will have to check precisely [quarantine] measures," he explained.

As of June 2014, around 1.2 million trees have been affected in the provinces of Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, Cavite and Basilan.

Hardest-hit is Batangas with over half a million trees.

Pangilinan said what is endemic in the Philippines is "aspidiotus rigidus," which is the pest that that has been identified that may have been introduced from out of the country.

He said government does not have the data and the evidence as to how it got into the country, “but there is the possibility that this could have been brought in through Batangas ports, and by way of bringing in ornamental plants.”

He said a similar pest can be seen in Indonesia. ”Base doon sa datos na ating nalikom, we cannot determine as of this point, with certainty, saan po ito nanggaling. But there are similar pests in Indonesia so we can only assume that it may have come from Indonesia. With respect to Basilan, ang datos na sinabi sa atin ng ating mga scientists, iba ho siya. Scale insect is a family of insects. So merong magkakapatid, may pinsan. So, itong scale insect sa Basilan is a cousin of the scale insect here in Calabarzon. So it may have been also transported from outlying areas perhaps not directly --- well, not directly from here. So it could have come in from other areas in the southern border.”

HELP FROM INDONESIA

Pangilinan said the government has also sought help from Indonesia. "The task force informed me that they actually visited the site in Indonesia. The conclusions they were to draw, or are drawing, are that biocontrol agents eventually are the key to be able to manage this pest effectively. The target is, we begin the biocontrol after the treatment and after the spraying. Kasi hindi mo naman pwedeng isabay at pati sila maaapektuhan ‘nung spraying, so after. That would be in August."

"Based on the data that we have, 65 percent ang mortality niya. So nabawasan ka na doon sa pruning at burning, mababawasan pa after the injection and then after two weeks, that’s when you put the spraying, lalo pang mababawasan. Matitira na lang iyong 35 percent," he said. '"'Pag ini-spray mo, mas effective iyong magiging focus ‘nung spray dahil mas kakaunti na lang itong peste. And after you spray, that’s when you release the biocontrol agents. Dahil kakaunti na lang iyong peste, mas kakayanin niyang kainin."

Pangilinan hopes for cooperation from the affected communities. "Hindi ho ito magiging matagumpay kung hindi ho kasama ang pamahalaang lokal, ang ating mga magsasaka mismo, ang ating mga farmers groups and organizations na kikilos para ho matugunan ito."

He explained that Batangas is prone to the infestation because it has many farms with ornamental flowering plants. “Sinasabay po nila iyan sa coconut. So, nagmumulti-cropping po sila. Again ang hinala, if it were...If it may have come from Indonesia, then it could have come from the Batangas port. The evidence does not say that precisely this is where it has come from. But we are continuing to look at the, you know, and finding out, trying to figure out exactly where it came from.”

Pangilinan explained why it took some time before government was able to identify the necessary measures to combat this pest.

He said because it was not endemic to the country, the pest has no natural enemies to defeat it or at least keep it at bay.

"Dahil nga bago po iyong peste, hindi kaagad nalaman kung ano ang magiging tamang management nito. Iyong una, nag-spraying, hindi masyadong umubra. Iyong iba naman naggupit-gupit at saka nag-pruning at burning, hindi rin sapat. Iyong iba nag-spraying at burning, hindi rin sapat. That’s why po ang protocols natin, based on the experience in the last four years, is to do either four or five depending on the severity of the infestation.”

Pangilian explained government’s response: From 2011 to 2014, leaf pruning, spraying, the release of biocontrol agents or ‘yung friendly o kaibigang kulisap, the rehabilitation and re-planting and fertilization, and then in 2014, the systemic pesticide trunk injection. Until May of this year, we have had 65-million pesos spent for this effort, “and this is precisely why we felt the need to augment and provide greater support—budgetary and personnel support—for the effort.”

Pangilinan explained the details of the Scale Insect Emergency Action Program: a 6-month program starting in June.

"We will do all these: pruning and burning of drying leaves, integrated po ‘yung approach niya, and then we will do a trunk injection. After which, there will be spraying using organic material, organic pesticide. After spraying, we will do release of biocontrol agents, which is the friendly kulisap, and then we do fertilization and strengthening or providing more sustenance and nutrients to the trees, so that it will recover faster," he said.

"We will do quarantining. We will set up checkpoints in these areas because you can spread the disease—or the infestation, rather—the pests by way of infested crops or infested coconuts, infested trunks, infested leaves. And so, we will be quarantining key areas in the CALABARZON area," Pangilinan said. "Mass rearing of biocontrol agents, that is raising the friendly kulisaps, so that they may, in their natural environment, help contain these pests and then continuing research and development. We will also have fertilization, intercropping, livelihood intervention in order to address the damage and the loss of income of our farmers."

The program will have the following budget: Phase I (June to August) involves around P460 million; Phase II with P204 million; and Phase III, P88 million.

"It will include precisely the protocols that we mentioned: injection of insecticides, pruning and burning, scale insect laboratory to produce these biocon agents, rehabilitation, surveillance, and quarantine," Pangilinan said.

The expense is justified with the following cost benefit analysis: P750-million to be spent to address 1.2 million trees.

"Ang cost po ng isang buko ay sampung piso. Ang isang niyog, puno ng niyog ay kaya pong mamunga at makapag-harvest ng 40 niyog sa isang taon. So 40 (coconuts) per year per tree at P10, that is P400 per tree."

Pangilinan expects the local coconut industry to recover in 2 years. "If there are a million trees, that is P400-million worth of coconuts in one year. And so, in two years’ time, if we spend around P750 million or P800-million, in two years’ time we will be able to recover economically. And not to mention, of course, the impact—the social impact on our farmers."

STOPPING THE INFESTATION

Stopping the infestation, however, is expected this year. "Based on the field studies, lumalabas ang improvement makikita na on the third month but this is anywhere between four to six months makikita ang marked improvement. But that does not mean it is...We cannot eradicate this pest. This pest will always be with us. What is strategic here is to bring it down to manageable levels and therefore it will no longer threaten the other regions and the other areas of the country."

"Timetable is to be able to see significant results in the next six months. Otherwise, well the other side of the coin is if we do not intervene, it can reach Bicol Region and Zamboanga Peninsula by the end of the year. So, that is why failure here is not an option," he said.

President Aquino issued an executive order last week imposing emergency measures in areas affected by the cocolisap infestation.

Pangilinan clarified that no state of emergency has been imposed in those areas.

“It is [an] emergency measures declaration for Calabarzon and Basilan, which therefore requires emergency measures and taking of emergency steps, which will include quarantining, augmenting of the budgets, greater coordination with the local governments. In other words it is specific to Calabarzon and Basilan."

Pangilinan said coconut farmers are the poorest types of farmers. "Kung P23,000 a year ang kinikita po ng average farmer doon po sa usapin ng kanyang income, mas mababa pa po ang coconut farmer. Tumatama lang yata ng mga P15,000 on average per year. Iyan ho iyong average.”

This is why government is also working on livelihood assistance. “Kung maaalala ninyo, sinabi natin magkakaroon po ng pruning and burning e kailangan po ng taong gagawa po ‘non at meron po tayong pondo para ho sa cash-for-work. Ang mga magsasaka po mismo hihingin po natin ang suporta nila lalo na po iyong mga kinakailangan po ng pangtustos sa araw-araw na gastusin na nawala na dahil nga naubos ang kanilang mga niyog. Kasama din po doon iyong spraying. Kakailanganin din ng suporta mula po sa ating mga nasa barangay para umasiste o to assist dito po sa pagii-spray, kasama din po dito po sa pag-inject."

Pangilinan confirmed that the Philippine National Police will assist in quarantine work.

He said the government may be told of any attempts to corrupt the quarantine system through a hotline. "Tatanggapin po natin lahat ng reklamo tungkol po rito. Kung meron pong ganoong klaseng mga pangyayari ay dapat i-report agad sa atin at hindi ho tayong magdadalawang-isip na disiplinahin ang sinuman na gagawa po ng kalokohan o sasamantalahin itong sitwasyon na ito.Nakikiusap din po tayo na huwag na po nating gawing samantalahin ang sitwasyon dahil ang kinakailangan po rito ay iisa lang po ang ating layunin na itong pesteng ito ay sugpuin po natin at matigil."

Pangilinan said there are 3.5 million hectares or 27 percent of total national agricultural land planted with coconuts, with around 3.5 million coconut farmers.

He added that 25 million Filipinos, or nearly one-fourth of the population, are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut industry.

The Philippines accounts for 60 percent of the share of the world’s coconut exports, making the industry a billion-dollar earner per year.