Despite an array of scientific methods now being employed by the government, the success of the effort to stop the outbreak of the coconut scale insect infestation will still rely on simple visual inspection techniques, the newly appointed administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) said on Thursday.
Romulo Arancon Jr., who was named to the PCA’s top post by Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agriculture Modernization Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan earlier this week, said in a telephone conference with reporters they are still relying on just visual inspection of coconuts and coco-based products in key quarantine checkpoints to stop the spread of scale insects.
“We’ll do a visual inspection of coconuts, seedlings, trunks, and infested leaves. It’s easy to spot scale insects,” Arancon said, saying that PCA personnel will be deployed in key transit areas of Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) as well as in Basilan province.
Secretary Pangilinan earlier said that more than 1.2 million trees have been infested.
But in the span of just two weeks, the PCA chief said that figure has ballooned to about 2 million coconut trees, or 1.13 percent of the total 350 million coconut trees in the Philippines.
“Right now, we have an outbreak situation in Calabarzon,” he said, noting that the pests are likely transported by air.
“It is still minimal, but we don’t want to allow it to spread to other areas. That’s why we want to contain these pests from spreading to Bicol and other nearby provinces,” he added.
On Tuesday, The Manila Times columnist Ben Kritz suggested that the “imposition of a quarantine is a grave concern that farmers will be blackmailed into accepting the pesticide treatment, being banned from transporting or selling any coconut products until they submit to the chemical procedure.”
The blackmail, the column said, will be easy because as soon as the quarantine is imposed, the livelihood for coconut farmers—meager enough under normal circumstances—instantly evaporates.
Kritz’s column also noted that not only the coconut farmers will be affected, but an entire chain of secondary producers as well – from the coco water business, coconut oil extractors, vinegar makers, distributors of coco lumber and coconut husk fiber, lambanog distillers, and even makers of the Laguna province’s famous buko pie.
In response, Arancon clarified that processed coconut products such as coconut oil, copra and coco-based food products would not need to undergo inspection at checkpoints.
The official also said that they would still allow raw coconut products coming from Bicol to enter infested areas, noting that majority of the processing plant for coconut oil and other coco-based products were located in Quezon province.
Arancon cautioned, however, that the protocols to fight the infestation—including the injection of insecticides, pruning and burning of affected trees, setting up a scale insect laboratory to produce predator insects as biocontrol agents, rehabilitation, surveillance, and quarantine—does not assure 100 percent eradication of scale insects.
“We can’t remove scale insect completely. Our efforts should take care of just about 85 percent,” he said.