IN June 2014, when the cocolisap (scale insects) infestation had become a serious problem, President Aquino issued an executive order to combat the infestation that could wipe out our country’s coconut farming and industry.
The government allotted P750 million for the implementation of the Scale Insect Emergency Action Program.
No less than 3.5 million coconut farmers and 25 million Filipinos are either directly or indirectly dependent on coconuts. One-fourth of all our country’s agricultural land or about 3.6 million hectares are planted to coconut. We are the world’s leading coconut product exporter.
The Philippine Coconut Authority estimates that in 2014 cocolisap damage in the Calabarzon region alone reached P12 billion. Coconut farmers therefore, who earn very little–an average of P15,000 per year, have been earning less where cocolisap has attacked their livelihood crop.
By September 8, 2014, however, the PCA could happily boast that about half of the coconut trees infested with scale insects had been treated. It said at least 1,219,785 of the 2.8 million infested coconut trees in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Quezon provinces and the cities of Isabela and Basilan were already cured.
The treatment involves pruning and burning infected twigs and injecting trunks with the pesticide Dinotefuran.
AGHAM, CALDEV and UPLB roundtable
Dinotefuran was the big issue that most concerned the scientists who participated in a roundtable to discuss lasting solutions to end Coconut Scale Insect infestation organized by the scientist group AGHAM (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People) and the Center for Alternative Development in Information Management and Consultancy Services (CALDEV) in collaboration with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension of UP Los Baños last March 13.
It was agreed that the problem of cocolisap had not been solved. And that the use of Dinotefuran was posing a possibly more serious threat to the whole environment.
Dr. Ireneo L. Lit, Jr., a Filipino scale insect taxonomist who also teaches environmental and evolutionary biology at the Institute of Biological Sciences of UPLB, said: “Research on the efficacy and safety of Dinotefuran against coconut pests is very limited. Hence, there is a need for further studies on economic and environmental impacts of this type of pesticide especially because many neonicotinoids, a group to which Dinotefuran belongs, have been found to be toxic to honeybees and other organisms.”
Mr. Mario V. Navasero, a psyllid taxonomist and an expert on biological control, said, “I strongly disagree with trunk injection and the importation of biological control agents. The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is saying that we need to import means to control CSI because we do not have a natural enemy in the country. But our discovery of Comperiella sp., a parasitoid wasp that we found in San Pablo City, Laguna is capable of controlling the population of CSI infestation.”
Agronomist Dr. Ted C. Mendoza added, “The use of trunk injected Dinotefuran is uncalled for because of the established detrimental impact of this pesticide on pollinators. [These are creatures, like bees.] There was not even a strong scientific study to prove that the affected trees treated with the said pesticide have been effectively treated because PCA did not release a report detailing the effectivity of the trunk injection. Hence, the use of Starkle pesticide must be discontinued.”
UPLB Chancellor Dr. Fernando C. Sanchez Jr. said, “The partnership of scientists and farmers is crucial when we are now facing a serious problem of CSI outbreak that wrought havoc to the vast coconut farms in the country. This issue is very personal to me because I grew up in a family deeply involved in coconut farming and my parents are among the scientist pioneers who pushed for the advancement of coconut research and development.”
“With the use of Dinotefuran, the Philippine Coconut Authority has denied the farmers crucial information about the toxicological impact of Dinotefuran on the ecosystem specifically on bee pollinators and the option to choose for pest control strategies according to their capacity and needs. This could be a threat to food security because of the loss of pollinators that is important in the food production system,” said Feny Cosico, Secretary General of AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People.
As always, the people at the grassroots blamed the Aquino administration directly. One of the roundtable delegates representing farmers, Ka Nestor of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said, “The Aquino government is liable for this social and environmental injustice to our coconut farmers. Small coconut farmers are the backbone of the coconut industry. The social and economic costs and damages brought about by the CSI infestation are worsened by long-standing problems endured by small coconut farmers — landlessness and rural poverty resulting from the absence of genuine land reform program in the Philippines and policies promoted by the government that only serve the interests of big landowners and businesses.”