Pangilinan Sounds Alarm Over Coco Infestation

THE Philippine coconut industry could lose potential revenues of at least P32 billion if the government could not come up with immediate intervention to combat infestation of coconut trees, an official warned Monday.

Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agriculture Modernization Secretary Francis Pangilinan, in a press briefing in Malacanang, said that that 1.2 million coconut trees in the provinces of Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, Cavite, and Basilan have already been infested by the pest Aspidiotus Rigidus.

Batangas is the hardest hit with more than half a million trees, he said.

“The pest can reach the Bicol region and Zamboanga Peninsula by the end of the year. That is why failure is not an option,” he said, adding that if left without intervention, the coconut farmers’ losses could reach up to 60 percent of their annual yield.

“If left without intervention, you will have P12-billion losses in Region IV (Calabarzon), another P13-billion losses in Region V (Bicol region), and around P7-billion losses, potential losses [in Zaboanga Peninsula] with a 58 percent decrease. In other words, 60 percent decrease. Based on our experience dito sa Calabarzon, kung bumagsak ng 60 percent ang yield, ‘yan po ang magiging pigura,” Pangilinan said.

From 2011 until May this year, he said the government had spent P65 million to address coconut infestation.

To address the problem, he said the Scale Insect Emergency Action Program will be implemented.

“This is a six-month program beginning June, where we will do all these: pruning and burning of drying leaves, then we will do trunk injection. After which, there will be spraying using organic pesticide. After spraying, we will do release of biocontrol agents, which is the friendly kulisap, and then we will do fertilization, and strengthening or providing more sustenance and nutrients to the trees so that they will recover faster,” he said.

Checkpoints will also be set up to prevent the spread of the infestation by way of infested coconuts, trunks and leaves, he said, adding that there will be livelihood interventions to address the damage and the farmers’ loss of income.

He estimated the budget for the implementation of the program at P750 million and projected the coconut industry’s economic recovery in two years.

Asked about the origin of the pest, Pangilinan said similar pests could be found in Indonesia but they could not pinpoint the source as yet.

“We do 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.

According to Pangilinan, 3.5 million hectares, or 27 percent, of the country’s total agricultural land are planted with coconut.

There are 3.5 million coconut farmers and 25 million Filipinos are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut industry, he said, adding that 60 percent of the world’s coconut exports come from the Philippines, earning the country about $1 billion annually.

He thus called on the local governments, the community and the farmers to support the efforts to control the infestation.

“We need the cooperation of the communities that are affected so we can defeat this pest,” he said.

On June 5, President Benigno Aquino III issued Executive Order 169 on Establishing Emergency Measures to Control and Manage the Spread and Damage of Aspidiotus Rigidus in the Philippines and designating the Philippine Coconut Authority as the lead agency for the purpose. - SunStar

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