The Philippines has about 3.5 million coconut farmers and 26% of the total agricultural land is devoted to coconut farming alone.
The industry also contributes an annual average of 5.97% to the country’s gross value added (GVA) and 1.14% to the gross domestic product (GNP).
The Philippine coconut industry is an export-oriented sector.
Coconut regions, though one of the most productive industry, host the largest number of rural poor. Around 60% of farmers and workers under this sector live below the poverty line.
Problems vary from poor farm management practices, natural calamities, land conversion, and pest control and diseases.
Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which devastated several islands in the Visayas in 2013, damaged 15 million coconut trees. This year, a pest outbreak nearly wiped out the coconut trees in Region IV-A.
The massive infestation of the coconut scale insect was first detected in 2010. Pest control measures have been done after its identification, but the insect thrives and infested more than a million coconut trees.
The CSI case
The CSI is more commonly known as cocolisap. It is a common coconut pest. It looks like fish scales and is able to reproduce continuously for a month. They are usually found under coconut leaves.
Local species usually thrive during the dry season and die out during the rainy season.
Early this year, researchers from University of the Philippines Los Baños went to Indonesia to obtain CSI samples and validate the pest’s identity through DNA testing. The results came out positive.
A local species Aspidiotus destructor and another CSI species, Asipidotus rigidus, were identified as another outbreak species.
UPLB has guided the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) on its operation against pests.
The Crop Protection Cluster of the College of Agriculture has spearheaded several research and development (R&D) projects to address the threat since 2010.
The Department of Agriculture Proceso Alcala granted a P2-million research fund for UPLB to conduct research on taxonomy and development of mitigation measures.
UPLB was then able to come up with a method of conducting delimiting survey which helped the PCA to swiftly identify Cocolisap infestations at an early stage while the leaves were still green.
Samples are transported and analyzed at UPLB and results are forwarded to PCA, which sends a quick response team if results prove to be positive.
Mapping the infestation was able to lead to the identification of three zones, mainly outbreak areas where infestations need massive control, non-outbreak areas where infestation is only beginning to occur, and high risk areas.
Saving the coconut industry
The massive treatment of cocolisap-infested areas around Region IV-A started on June 20, 2014.
Simultaneous pruning and trunk injection was done in highly affected provinces of Quezon, Batangas, Cavite and Laguna.
The treatment will last for six months until all infected areas are covered. Dr. Medina says that the pesticide would stay in the coconut’s system for up to 50 days. Beyond that, they can be safely harvested.
Prior to the start of the activity in Sta. Cruz, San Pablo Laguna, a demonstration on pesticide application and farmer’s forum were conducted to clarify protocols.
Farmers were also able to ask questions to understand the process behind the treatment during the forum.
According to Dr. Susan Bacud, an expert in community pest management, the agricultural competitiveness should be stakeholder-oriented as well.
“Technology is very important, but the farmers themselves who will use the technology should also be highlighted,” Bacud said.
Farmers must be prepared in terms of calamities and pest outbreaks. They can be empowered to conduct their own pest management strategies, but must be constantly informed.
Bacud says that an important scheme to control pests is hasty reporting.
Farmers should be able to easily communicate with agriculture technicians and researchers once a pest species is noticed. Reporting is one way to prevent outbreaks and farmers should be able to do that.