Local virgin coconut oil (VCO) producers expressed concern over the government’s integrated pest management approach to control the spread of coconut scale insect (CSI), saying that the measure, involving the use of chemical insecticides, would adversely affect the organic certification of the industry.
In a statement, VCO producers said that there would always be psychological apprehensions among producers and consumers even if there were scientific bases for endorsing chemical protocols by injecting the coconut trunk with systemic insecticide called neocotinoids.
“We are worried that [the measure]would cause more negative impact on our organic certification which requires no chemicals, no chemical pesticides, and no inorganic fertilizers,” the industry group said.
They said that their products may not be sold as “organic or natural” in importing countries, which require organic certification.
“We are not insisting on relying only on the use of chemicals. The Philippine Coconut Authority is promoting both chemical and organic solutions,” the group said.
Presidential Adviser on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis 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.
He said that the government has allocated P750 million—over 10 times the previous allocation—for a six-month intervention program, which involves a five-stage protocol.
An integrated pest management (IPM) approach was recommended based on the research of Task Force CSI, which forms part of the government’s Scale Insect Emergency Action Program.
The program involved pruning infested fronds, followed by chemical treatment by trunk injection, spraying of organic pesticides, releasing of bio-control agents, and fertilization to enhance nutrition and sustenance to enable the trees to recover fast, with each step following a set of protocols.
Pangilinan said that there are some 2.1 million coconut trees hosting various stages of CSI infestation in four provinces and 87 municipalities in Calabarzon. The figure represents less than one percent of the 350 million total coconut-bearing trees in the country and less than five percent of Calabarzon’s coconut tree population of 47 million, according to Bureau of Agriculture Statistics data.
Average harvest in the area is 30 nuts per tree per year and on this basis, foregone harvest due to infestation would amount to 63 million nuts. If all of these were to be processed into copra, this would amount to some 12,600 metric tons (MT) to 15,750 MT of copra which is only 1.5 to 1.9 percent of the installed annual oil milling capacity of Southern Tagalog tallied at 832,650 MT of copra.
Pangilinan denied that the number of coconut trees infested by CSI was bloated to justify the massive spending in the “all-out war” against the menace, saying that they relied on scientific methods to determine the extent of infestation in coconut-growing areas.
Though the extent of infestation may be considered “minimal” at this stage, VCO producers admitted that further infestation should be stopped.
They said that the government should instead consider the use of organic pesticides, which are now available on the market and certified by the Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority (FPA) as proper for coconut trees.
“It is safe for the environment and has also passed the public safety requirements before certification. The product is 100 percent organic-based and biodegradable as it is made from edible plant sources,” they said.
They said that these organic fertilizers have been found effective in a series of tests in the four provinces in Calabarzon with CSI infestations.