The government denied that the number of coconut trees infested by coconut scale insect (CSI) was bloated to justify the massive spending on its “all-out war” against the menace.
Presidential Adviser on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan, who also the chairs the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), said they relied on scientific methods to determine the extent of infestation in coconut-growing areas.
“I would not say that the figure is bloated . . . that would suggest that someone massaged the figures. I would like to disagree. This is precisely why we are relying on science,” Pangilinan said during a press conference in Quezon City.
In June 2013, the PCA reported that 931,139 coconut trees had been infested. The number did not go down over the next 12 months even with continued pruning, spraying and cutting of infested trees by the PCA.
Last month, Pangilinan raised the alarm on CSI infestation by declaring a state of emergency in the major coconut-producing areas of the Calabarzon Region and Basilan, saying that over 1.08 million coconut trees were already infested.
After less than 30 days, Pangilinan said the figure has nearly doubled to about 2.1 million trees, representing 0.6 percent of the 324 million coconut trees nationwide.
The official, citing studies by a government task force, explained that the rate of infestation grew exponentially as the insect can travel 400 meters per month.
He also explained that within a life cycle of 30 days, females could lay up to 200 eggs. In 45 days, 1,000 of these pests can multiply to about 200,000. About four million insects can be found in a single coconut tree.
The government has allocated P750 million—over 10 times the previous allocation—for a six-month intervention program, which involves a five-stage protocol.
Pangilinan also denied accusations that the task force is raking in big bucks for the purchase of expensive imported chemical solutions. Of the total budget allotted for the campaign, he said that only P38.5 million has been allotted for the use of chemical solutions.
“The huge chunk of the budget, in fact, is apportioned as income replacement or cash for work for affected coconut farmers who will become paid labor force that will implement the protocol,” he said.
He added that over 25 percent of the 2.1 million infested trees, which are considered senile or over 65 years old, will no longer be subject to chemical treatment and will have to be cut down to prevent further spreading the insect.
“Some of the trees will have to be killed because of their age and the rate of deterioration, but some will recover. So we should only treat those that can recover,” he said.
During the press conference, the task force members—comprised of the PCA, Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Agriculture (DA) and University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB)—said they employed a protracted approach in identifying areas infested by CSI. The program is also area-wide, encompassing all known infected areas simultaneously.
The task force expects to manage and contain the infestation within the next six months, adding that they aim to treat at least 22,000 trees a day.