Scale insect infestation solution | Inquirer Business
Commentary

Scale insect infestation solution

Scale insects are killing the coconut industry. We offer a four-part solution that we reported at a May 12 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing chaired by Senator Cynthia Villar.

Many insights were gotten from Alyansa Agrikultura members such as Centro Saka (Omi Royandoyan: 0917-5286001), and Coconut Industry Reform Movement (Joey Faustino: 0917-8205027), as well as scientists such as the UPLB Volunteers to Fight Scale Insects (former UPLB Agriculture Dean Ayds Adalla: 0920-9009104).

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Budget

Only P50 million out of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) 2014 budget of P65 billion—or less than 1/10 of 1 percent—has been allocated to address this unfolding agricultural disaster. At an earlier briefing, it was reported that the scale insects had reached 46 municipalities in Calabarzon and travel at 0.4 kilometer per month. These numbers should be reviewed. These insects have already penetrated Region 1 (e.g. Ilocos Norte) and Region 3 (e.g. Bulacan). Furthermore, they have also attacked banana and mangosteen plants, and have already been found infesting the ornamental palms in Greenbelt, Makati.

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In response to this massive infestation, the government has provided a measly total of 225 sprayers. Why so few? The coconut farmers have been contributing all these years to a coconut levy that has reached at least P90 billion today. Now that the farmers need resources to survive, not one centavo is coming from this levy. This is indeed a travesty of justice.

LGU involvement

The Local Government Autonomy Code stipulates that it is now the local government unit (LGU), not the DA, that is primarily responsible for agricultural development. But the DA has failed to give the LGUs the support they need to stop this agricultural decline.

Other countries cordon off an identified area and simultaneously destroy the insects. Here, we do it municipality by municipality. The insects therefore just escape to the adjoining municipality, ironically hastening the infestation spread. When the first municipality has finished its action, some of these escaped insects just return, with the resulting double infestation. Indeed, the LGUs should be more involved in planning and implementing these measures. Adjoining LGUs and communities should likewise participate so that they can take the necessary preventive actions.

Some LGUs are being dissuaded from declaring their communities as calamity areas. One department official stated that it might impact our coconut exports. Other agencies say that it might tarnish our government’s reputation. But by being so dissuaded, LGUs will not get the necessary attention, and will be deprived of additional resources given to calamity areas.

Task force composition

The Coconut Scale Insect (CSI) Task Force is chaired by the PCA’s Calabarzon regional director. It is composed of government agencies and business organizations, some of which have vested interests. On the other hand, not a single farmer representative has been included.

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The insect infestation is akin to the deadly germ warfare banned by international bodies. Because of the severity of this problem which is impacting other regions and crops, this task force should now be headed by an agriculture undersecretary, with at least one farmer representative. This way, the task force will be able to address this crisis more comprehensibly.

Organic law implementation

Chemical pesticides are being recommended to address the scale insects. If unnecessary, their use will adversely affect our coconut exports which are currently chemical free. We may then not be able to export any longer our high-value organic coconut products, such as virgin coconut oil, coconut water and coconut sugar. There are at least four companies offering organic non-chemical solutions which can be sprayed over an identified quarantine area that will simultaneously kill these scale insects and consequently stop their spread.

However, this cannot be done quickly because organic products have to be approved by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), whose procedures are appropriate only for chemical products. Not only are these the wrong procedures; they also take too much time to address an emergency crisis.

This current practice also violates the Agriculture Organic Law, which states that it is the Bureau of Agriculture Fisheries Product Standards, not the FPA, that should do organic product certification. This should be corrected immediately. There is no time to lose during this crisis.

Frustrated farmers

The coconut farmers have contributed to a P90-billion coconut levy that is doing nothing to help them in their hour of need. But even if government authorities choose to leave this levy untouched, it can still implement the four-part solution that is identified here. It is high time the government does its job of saving our coconut industry and our coconut farmers. Otherwise, we will have the opposite of inclusive growth.

(The author is Chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail [email protected] or telefax (02) 8522112).

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TAGS: Agriculture, Business, Coconut Industry, column, ernesto m. ordonez, scale insect infestation
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