Task force formed to solve coconut insect infestation

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ZAMBOANGA CITY: The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) on Tuesday formed an inter-agency task force to solve the infestation of coconut scale insects in Basilan.

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PCA provincial manager Rudy Corsame said the Task Force CSI (coconut scale insects) involves various government agencies such as the Basilan Agriculture Office, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine National Police, the Maritime Industry Authority, Department of Labor and Employment, and the Bureau of Plant Industry, among others.

He said the task force will quarantine all plants and seedlings coming to Basilan—one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region—to ensure that no invasive species of insects such as the coconut scale would be able to enter the island, just several miles south of Zamboanga City.

PCA provincial development manager Efren Carba on Monday said the invasive species of coconut scale have destroyed over 76,000 coconut trees in Isabela City in Basilan alone. He said 16 out of 33 villages with huge coconut plantations were infected with insects and the infestation has reached an alarming stage.

Carba said they are yet to receive funding to control if not eradicate the coconut scale infestation in the Basilan. The same infestation has ravaged the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon—all in Luzon Island and officials were trying to determine how the insects (Aspidiotus Rigidus) managed to find its way to Basilan.

Carba said the infestation of the coconut scale is at the moment within Basilan and there were no reports of attacks on coconut plantations in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces, and also Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte, all in western Mindanao.

He said pests attack the leaves and fruits of coconut trees and there were reports that mangoes, bananas ang other fruit trees are also at risk of infestation in Basilan. He said there were other species of coconut scale in Basilan, but not the same species bow wrecking havoc to coconut plantations in the province and in Luzon.

Carba said the life cycle of a coconut scale insect—a small, flat, yellowish scale with a semitransparent or whitish, waxy covering—is 30-32 days with each insect can spawn up to 50 eggs in just one week. Eggs are laid under the scale cover and hatch into a stage called crawlers that are dispersed by the wind, on clothing of people, or on the feet of birds and other flying animals.

He said they are now using biological and chemical spray to kill the insects and stop the spread of the infestation.

Carba said the species Aspidiotus destructor is endemic in Basilan and a minor pest of coconut, but the newly reported, Aspidiotus rigidus, is invasive and causing outbreaks and not known to be present before in the province.

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