Yolanda, cocolisap and coconuts

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Last Monday, the Climate Change Network for Community-Based Initiatives (CCNCI) held a national consultation and workshop attended by different development networks and non-governmental organizations. They discussed ways to unite the different participants on how to deal with the impacts of climate change on the communities that they work with.

Involved in the formation of the network are the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC), Philippine Network for Food Security Programmes (PNFSP), Advocates for Community Health Incorporated and the Management Advancement Systems Association, Incorporated (MASAI). These organizations have been engaged in development work for several decades already and have teamed up so that they can come up with clear adaptation strategies and development projects that would address community needs that will arise from the effects of climate change.

During the program, the CDRC shared how they coped as a disaster response organization with the impacts of Yolanda and other disasters such as Pablo. They presented a slide show and a video that focused on the impact of Yolanda through the coastlines of Leyte and Samar. Entire villages lost their livelihood and shelter. Worse, seven months after the disaster, the government is still unable to address both immediate and long term needs.

In the video, swathes of hills and coastlines are littered with the trunks of coconuts without its leaves intact. Planted like candles along the landscape, they stand as silent witnesses to the tragedy. According to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), over ten percent of the 340 million trees were destroyed in Samar, Leyte and the Western Visayas. Some 46 million trees were in the Eastern Visayas region making it the second highest coconut-producing region in the country.


The impact of Yolanda to the coconut industry is substantial. Last February, coconut oil exports fell by at least 35 percent for the first quarter when compared to the same period last year. As a result, according to a report in the Manila Times last March, the United Coconut Association of the Philippines (UCAP) lowered its export target from 1.1 million MT to 0.85 million MT this year.

Worse, the threat of the coconut scale infestation (CSI) can upset the whole industry. According to Ms. Finesa Cosico, an entomologist and Secretary General of Agham—Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, about 338 million coconut trees are threatened by the disease. In several reports, losses have reached P179.6 million in Calabarzon alone enough to prompt the government to declare a state of emergency with the issuance of Executive Order (EO) 169 which institutes emergency measures for the control and management of the infestation.

Cosico notes that the widespread problem of CSI could have been prevented five years ago since it was already detected as early as 2009 by the Regional Crop Protection Center of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in Barangay Ulango, Tanuan City, Batangas. She pointed out that if only the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) paid serious attention to reports of the initial infestation, we would not be dealing with CSI on such a massive scale right now.

According to Cosico, the main culprit of CSI is Aspidiotus destructor rigidus Reyne (A. rigidus) that is a subspecies of coconut scale that was originally identified in Indonesia. They live one and a half times longer than other cocolisap species. The females lay only 10-12 eggs as compared to the average 90 eggs for most other species. They form dense colonies at the bottom part of coconut leaves and suck the sap from the green leaves and excrete toxins through their salivary glands. The affected frond or leaf will dry up and turn yellow and can cause tree death if the infestation is severe. Wind can then spread the CSI to other trees.

Cosico pointed out that because the infestation is already there, coconut farmers are left with reactive, stop-gap, and almost futile measures proposed by the PCA such as leaf pruning, the cutting of infected trees, use of organic pesticides, and the utilization of biological control agents.

Cosico explains that physical methods such as leaf pruning will only be effective if done before an actual outbreak happens. Cutting down infested trees is heartbreaking for coconut farmers who have toiled on their plants for at least six years. Pesticides are difficult to apply for very tall plants like coconuts. Introducing predators or biological control agents would be a short-term solution to a serious problem of widespread infestation.

Executive Order 169 might be too late as coconut farmers stand to lose more if the government will continue to provide paltry solutions to the problem of CSI infestation. Together with its dismal response to the Yolanda disaster, the coconut industry and coconut farmers are now facing serious challenges in their livelihood.

In Yolanda struck areas, it is estimated that it would take at least six to nine years before full production returns. The government should provide relief to our coconut farmers during this long period. It should provide these farmers the flexibility to plant alternative crops to address their needs. One way to do this is by empowering them thorough land reform and reconfiguring the whole coconut industry away from exports towards addressing food security and the needs of our local industry.

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