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The coconut scale insect (CSI a.k.a. cocolisap) outbreak in Calabarzon that has affected more than 2.6 million nut-bearing coconut trees in August last year is downed to a manageable level, OPAFSAM Secretary Francis 'Kiko' Pangilinan and PCA Administrator Romulo N. Arancon, Jr., announced in a press conference held at the PCA Auditorium on Wednesday, February 11, 2015.

 In responding to the press and other stakeholders' query, Secretary Pangilinan and Administrator Arancon were joined by Undersecretary Edel Guiza of OPAFSAM, Dr. Celia dR. Medina of the National Crop Protection Center (NCPC-UPLB), and Dr. Jocelyn E. Eusebio of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development - Department of Science and Technology (PCAARRD-DOST).

Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis 'Kiko' Pangilinan (center) emphasizes that the government is now more prepared than it was in 2010 - when the coconut scale insect was discovered in Batangas - to handle a future outbreak. Also in photo (L-R) are Dr. Jocelyn E. Eusebio, Director of the Crop Research Division, PCAARRD-DOST, PCA Administrator Romulo N. Arancon, Jr., Usec Edel Guiza of OPAFSAM, and Dr. Celia dR. Medina, Executive Director, NCPC-UPLB.

Undersecretary Guiza presented to the media and several coconut industry stakeholders the accomplishment of the Coconut Scale Insect Emergency Action Program (CSIEAP) from June to December 2014.

"The objective of the CSIEAP Task Force is to contain the spread of CSI while reducing the pest population and replacing lost income of affected coconut farmers," Usec Guiza emphasized.

The science and technology (S&T)-based integrated pest management (IPM) protocol developed and implemented by the PCA-led CSIEAP Task Force effectively reduced the cocolisap population and averted the spread of infestation to non-infested coconut growing provinces.

The IPM protocol involves harvesting of harvestable nuts, leaf pruning, trunk injection, spraying of organic chemicals, the mass rearing and field releases of biological control agents, and fertilization to hasten recovery of infested trees and eventually increase yield, among others. The infested areas are declared to be under quarantine to prevent the further spread of the prolific pest.

As of December 2014, six months since the launching of the IPM control program, the treatment protocol significantly reduced the number of infested trees in Calabarzon by lowering the CSI population to a non-outbreak level.

A total of 1,186,242 trees, equivalent to around 90% of the 1,331,179 treated trees, no longer require further treatment.

In the implementation of the science-based CSI-IPM protocol, the affected coconut farmers were engaged in the operations. A total of P52.8 million was provided as replacement income to 27,134 barangay-based workers (BBWs), mostly coconut farmers, for their labor in the leaf pruning and trunk injection operations.

"We must be grateful that there was no any report of injury or poisoning caused by the chemical treatment employed against this cocolisap," Dr. Medina announced when asked about the 'possible damage' caused by the IPM protocol.

"Results of tests showed that there were no detectable residue in coconut meat and coconut water 51 days after the treatment. Moreover, because of the damage inflicted by the cocolisap, treated palms will not bear fruits for more than a year," added the Executive Director of the NCPC-UPLB, Dr. Medina.

In a statement, Secretary Pangilinan underscored that, "we respect the positions of those who oppose certain aspects of the protocol, but it was a judgment call, we needed to contain and control the CSI outbreak. Besides we did not treat all the 2.7 million infested trees when the level of infestation was already reduced to manageable level."

"With the implementation of cost-effective IPM strategies, the area-wide emergency control interventions were able to contain and control the formidable pest at an average of P149 treatment cost per tree", said Usec Guiza.

"We will account for every single centavo spent in this program," she added.

Considering the cost-benefit analysis of the interventions employed, using the average annual harvest of 40 nuts/tree at P10/nut, the coconut industry will be able to save around P474,496,800 each year after the palms have recovered in 2-3 years, depending on the level of infestation.

The combined impact of the IPM protocol and the reduction of CSI population due to typhoon Glenda considerably brought down the pest population at a level that biological control can sustain.

According to Dr. Eusebio, "PCA and the Regional Crop Protection Center (RCPC) laboratories are continuously mass-rearing and releasing biological control agents in areas with low CSI population." Through the funding and technical support from PCAARRD-DOST, studies on the preparation of alternative artificial media for the production of better quality and more efficient biocontrol agents are under way, Dr. Eusebio said.

A total reduction of 1,611,842 trees, from the 2,699,872 infested trees in August 2014, was achieved by the combined effects of the IPM protocol and typhoon Glenda. The procedure on how the science-based rapid ground assessment (RGA) was employed in evaluating the combined effects of the treatment protocol and typhoon Glenda was explained by Dr. Medina.

From 58 CSI-hotspot areas (with severe level of infestation) before the treatment operations began in June, only 9 municipalities in 4 provinces (viz. Batangas, Laguna, Quezon and Basilan) remain as of January 2015, the report said.

To extend the involvement of the LGUs in managing the infestation in the CSI-hotspot areas, they will be the one to implement the control measures. According to the CSIEAP members, "while some funds will be given to them, the LGUs, with the guidance of the Task Force, could make informed choices about the intervention they opt to apply".

PCA Administrator Romulo N. Arancon, Jr. answers the inquiries of the media regarding the impact of the science-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Protocol and the probability of a recurrence of the cocolisap outbreak.

"In addition to replanting and fertilization programs to rehabilitate the affected areas, assistance for intercropping and other livelihood projects will also be provided to affected farmers", Secretary Kiko mentioned.

Administrator Arancon reiterated that, "aside from PCA's existing coconut planting and replanting program, we have an on-going fertilization program not only in the CSI-infested and Yolanda-affected provinces."

"We recognize the contribution of the science community and the LGUs in the integrated management of this coconut pest, so we are continuously forging strong and effective collaboration with research institutions as well as with the provincial and municipal LGUs in Calabarzon to ensure a sustainable management of coconut scale insects", Secretary Pangilinan stressed.