GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Alarmed over the spread of a debilitating disease that is destroying coconut farms in Luzon, Mindanao coconut farmers are calling for an island-wide summit to prevent the infestation from wiping out the coconut industry here.

Rene Pamintuan, co-convenor of the Save the Coconut Movement, said millions of coconut trees are dying in Luzon, particularly in the Southern Tagalog region, due to widespread infestation by coconut scale insect, also known as cocolisap.

Pamintuan said there are already cases of cocolisap attacks in several provinces in Mindanao but this has not yet reached the level of destruction that hit Laguna and Batangas.

“But we do not have to wait before we take action,” he said during a press briefing Monday.

Pamintuan however warned against the use of chemicals in eradicating the pests.

He claimed neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic.

Coconut scale insect. Photo courtesy of Save the Coconut Movement

“They enter into the system of the plant.  They will eventually also kill friendly insects,” he warned.

Neonicotinoid pesticides attack the nervous system of insects, killing them in the process.

Pamintuan also said the widespread use of chemicals will have far-reaching ramification for the already reeling coconut industry.

Importers of Philippine coconut products may not be pleased if they learn that these are chemically-laced.

Pamintuan instead urged the government to adopt biological methods to prevent the spread of the disease.

Thailand, he cited, released 200 million parasitoids that feed on the coconut scale insect while the Philippines reportedly release a mere 700 pieces.

 

The fish scale-like insect attacks the young core of leaves of coconuts.Pic courtesy of Save the Coconut Movement

PCA entomologists however said they have released 103,670 coccinellid beetles in the Calabarzon area to combat the infestation.  Coccinellid beetles were identified as natural predators in a PCA study that had brought them to Indonesia where similar cases were reported.

Even former PCA 12 regional director Elvira Silva said she resisted the use of harmful chemicals in eradicating the pests.

Not endemic

Norberto Lejarso, retired manager of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) in Sarangani, said the disease may have been introduced into the country by florists who imported ornamental palms from Thailand.

According to the Save the Coconut Movement, Basilan appeared to be the province in Mindanao with most number of cases of coconut scale insect attack (scientific name aspidiotus destructor).

“The plant disease could attack in a matter of months and the damage could be irreversible,” Pamintuan warned.

Coconut scale insects attack the youngest leaf tissues of both seedlings and mature coconuts reducing the ability of the tree to produce its own food through photosynthesis.  Prolonged infestation could lead to the eventual death of the tree.

The PCA said the country is losing P32 billion in potential revenues due to the infestation.

P700 million fund

President Benigno Aquino III recently signed Executive Order No 169 allocating P700 million to arrest the spread of the disease that could devastate the US$2 billion coconut export industry but has put emphasis on using pesticides.

The president has designated former Senator Francisco Pangilinan to head the Task Force created by EO 169.

Lejarso said more than 50 percent of the country’s coconut production is from Mindanao with over 600 million trees.

He said Sarangani alone has more than 100,000 hectares of coconut plantations with more than 25,000 coconut farmers.

The country has more than 3.5 million coconut farmers.

Pamintuan said they hope the Mindanao coconut summit will get the attention of the government and look for alternative and environment friendly solution to the problem that is threatening the entire coconut industry.

“We already lost the nata de coco volume sales (which was) taken over by Thailand abroad when it was learned that our nata de coco were laced with chemicals,” Pamintuan said as he read the position paper of the Save the Coconut Movement.