Sagip Intro – An article entitled “Massive Infestation of Coconut Trees; Greatest Agri Crisis Looms” criticizing the government’s response to the coconut scale insect infestation now affecting CALABARZON and Basilan is being circulated via e-mail and in various social media accounts. The Philippine Coconut Authority, Department of Agriculture, Department of Science and Technology, University of the Philippines Los Banos Task Force wishes to respond to the issues raised in the article and in the hope that matters may be clarified and the public may better informed and better involved.
Bernie Lopez article – “Today, we are facing the greatest agricultural crisis in Philippine history. The Coconut Industry, which supports 25 million Filipinos (PCA), is slowly dying because of a massive insect infestation. To date, it has claimed 2 million trees, mainly in the CALABARZON area and in Zamboanga. It is spreading rapidly and everyone is in panic.”
Sagip reply – The 2 Million trees are in various stages of infestation and it is expected that a significant number of these trees will recover. It cannot be said therefore that the pest has claimed 2 million trees as the article suggests. There are no verified reports of the infestation reaching Zamboanga. The only verified reports in Mindanao are in the province of Basilan.
Bernie Lopez article – “The DA-PCA has come up with an ‘emergency’ chemical ‘solution’ to save the coconut industry when it will actually kill the coconut industry. Why does the DA-PCA insist on the chemical option? Simple, it brings them big bucks. They will risk the entire industry for their big bucks”
Sagip reply – The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is endorsing both chemical and organic protocols/solutions. Certified Organic Farms and those farms in the process of certification as organic farms are exempt from the use of chemical pesticides. We are not insisting on a solution relying only on the use of chemicals. PCA is promoting both chemical and organic solutions. The technical protocols for the integrated pest management (IPM) of CSI were recommended based on the scientific research by the Task Force, which includes DOST-PCAARRD, UPLB and PCA. Studies and experiment show that the use of both chemical and organic pesticides complement each other, with the chemical pesticide having a 30-day active effect on eradicating the CSI and the organic pesticide being able to flush out the remaining CSI on surfaces of fronds. The measures that the PCA is implementing are geared towards saving the 2.1 million trees affected by the infestation and to prevent further infestation in other parts of the country. Only Php 38.5 million of the Php750 million budget on the project is allocated for the purchase of pesticides. The pesticide recommended by the PCA-PCAARRD-DOST and UPLB is certified by the Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority (FPA). It is certified for use in coconuts as research data revealed that it is safe for the environment. It has also passed the public safety requirements before certification.
Bernie Lopez article – “Of our 340 million trees in 2012, 40% are too old, leaving us with 204 million productive trees, according to Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) figures. Yolanda destroyed 33 million trees, and the infestation has so far destroyed 2 million, leaving us with a net of 169 million trees. After Yolanda and with the infestation, we have so far lost 20% or a fifth of our coconut trees.”
Sagip Reply – At present, 2.1 million are affected but not destroyed as claimed. To say 2 Million trees have been destroyed is inaccurate. These trees have been classified into severely, moderately and slightly infested. If treated with either chemical or organic protocols, thousands of trees in fact will eventually recover. Some trees have been already cut down because of old age. Our country has around 350 million coconut trees. Following the data stated, only around .13% of the entire coconut population will be treated, leaving more than 98% of our trees chemical-free.
Bernie Lopez article – “The irony is, the infestation is easy to arrest using inexpensive organic means. There have been several successes from the private sector. But the DA-PCA insists on a chemical solution. The chemical option involves the use of a highly toxic chemical injected into the trunk of the tree.”
Sagip Reply – We will employ 5 protocols namely pruning, trunk injection, spraying, release of bio-control agents, and fertilization because after years of study and experiments, no one protocol was proven to control the infestation. The PCA is not insisting on chemical solutions to the exclusion of other organic solutions. Both organic and chemical protocols will be employed. Not all organic means are inexpensive. In fact, treatment requires 2-3 sprays of organic pesticide priced at 26 pesos per spray or 51 pesos for a minimum of 2 sprayings while chemical injection will cost 29 pesos per tree. Field tests and laboratory analysis conducted by the DOST-PCAARRD, PCA, UPLB research team has shown that 51 days after the injection of chemicals into the trunk, there are no traceable chemical residue in the coconut meat and coconut water. Before treatment with the chemical pesticide, the approved protocol requires that all farmers, under the supervision of the PCA technicians and the LGU agriculturists and barangay task force members, should harvest all harvestable nuts. The next harvest shall only be done 60 days after treatment. Bernie Lopez article – “Vendors complain that chemicalized trees produce sour juice, which is no longer sellable. When the whole world learns Philippine coconut has been chemicalized, the entire multi-billion industry will collapse. Exporters of coconut-derived products will lose their international organic certificates. Even our household is affected. You do not know if the coco oil you use for frying is infected or not. Since coco oil is used in homes and restaurants, the effect is massive.” Bernie V. Lopez email@example.com
Sagip reply – According to tests conducted by DOST-PCAARRD, PCA, and UPLB research team, no chemical residue was found in any part of the tree after 51 days from the day the chemical was injected. And only 2.1 million trees need treatment, leaving 98 percent of the 350 million trees untouched. Less than .13 percent of the coconut trees will be treated with chemical and/or organic pesticides. .13 percent of the coconut tree population does not represent the entire coconut industry and therefore the vast majority of coconut derived products will not lose their international organic certificates. Bernie Lopez article – “Why big bucks? First, there is reportedly an allocation of P700 million for the chemical solution program. Second, the expensive imported chemical translates into billions in sales, if even just 1 million trees are treated out of the existing 169 million. Sagip reply – Only Php 38.5 million of the budget are allotted for purchase of chemical solutions. The alleged billions of sales of chemical pesticides is therefore simply untrue. The 750 million budget for this CSI control program involves 4 other protocols aside from chemical injection. To label the effort as a chemical solution program is also inaccurate as organic solutions are also employed. These are pruning of leaves, spraying of organic pesticides, release of bio-control agents/friendly predator insects and fertilization. The huge chunk of the budget in fact is apportioned as income replacement/cash for work for affected coconut farmers who will become the paid labor force that will implement the protocols.
Bernie Lopez article – “The infestation began in 2009. Until lately, with its chemical solution, PCA had done nothing to contain the infestation. The private sector was forced to take the initiative, finding successful organic solutions, which the PCA rejected. Why? Big bucks? PCA wants to save face and be blameless by acting as the ‘hero’ in giving its last-two-minutes chemical solution.”
Sagip Reply – The first reported incident of the infestation was in 2010 from two Barangays in Tanauan City, Batangas. It is untrue that the PCA has done nothing to control the infestation. In fact, numerous studies have been conducted since the infestation began. These, however, have been sporadic in nature, focusing on either chemical or organic, but never a mixture of both complemented with pruning, release of bio-control agents, and fertilization. It was through the previous studies of the Task Force that PCA has based the protocol currently being implemented area-wide. PCA has not rejected any initiative from the private sector/suppliers. As a matter of fact, it has long been waiting for certified pesticide suppliers which would effectively control the outbreak of the CSI. The law, however, requires suppliers for inorganic and organic pesticides to have certification. By virtue of law and mandate, it is not PCA who issues these certifications. Rather, it is the FPA that is given the authority to certify products which meet the standards for safety and effective pest control. The FPA has certified one organic pesticide for use and continues to test other protocols submitted for testing and so it is untrue that the FPA/PCA has rejected successful organic solutions. In fact, an additional 4 organic solutions have passed the preliminary testing and will now be made to go field trials. The certification process for this emergency measure has been fast-tracked by the PCA and the FPA, requiring one field-testing instead of two. However, this certification is only valid for one year and will only serve to the CSI control program and not to other purposes. The trunk injection of trees is not imposed on certified organic farms and those undergoing the process of certification. Organic approach is available and if they wish, they are allowed to do their own treatment.
Task Force Sagip PCA DOST DA UPLB DILG PNP Task Force on the Coconut Scale Insect Infestation Julie Ann Dionne L. Tancio, Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Seurity and Agricultural Modernization.