CALABARZON, Philippines –The coconut farmers of the Southern Tagalog province have good reasons to collectively breathe a sigh of relief. The green landscape of coconut trees seen from the main roads of Southern Luzon exemplifies the triumph of the coconut industry stakeholders against the coconut scale insect (CSI). This sight is a complete reversal of the terrain punctuated with yellow leaves and withered bracts of the infested coconut trees which left farmers distraught and hopeless during the height of the pest’s wide-scale infestation in 2011 to 2014.
Today, farmers are optimistic about the effect of the Coconut Scale Insect Emergency Action Program (CSIEAP) spearheaded by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) since their coconut farm recovery in terms of yields observed to be gradually climbing to their pre-infestation levels.
Aurellio Aninganan of San Pablo, Laguna experienced harvesting only 500 pieces of nuts in his four (4) hectare farm before his coconut trees were treated by PCA.
“Nakakarecover na ang niyog mula nang magamot at utay-utay na tumaas hanggang 2,000 na piraso ang bunga,” he added. (The coconut trees are recovering due to the treatment and yields are gradually increasing to 2,000 pieces of nuts [every 45 days].)
Being a coconut farmer in Alaminos, Laguna, Marcelo Mauleon continues to reap the benefits of the CSIEAP after the treatment of his 2 ½ hectare coconut plantation. “Malaking bagay ang paggamot ng mga puno dahil noong magkasakit wala pang isang daan piraso ang bunga. Libo kasi noon. Ngayon dumadami na nang utay-utay.” (The treatment of the trees was very important since the CSI infestation our nut yields from 1,000 pieces to as low as 100 pieces. Presently, nut yields are steadily increasing.)
The non-endemic scale insect, known as the Aspidiotus rigidus, infested 1.1 million trees in May 2014. After a month, the highly invasive pest affected 2.6 million coconut trees covering 58 hotspot municipalities in Region IV-A. The pest ravaged many coconut plantations disrupting the livelihood of more than 16,000 coconut farmers in 2014.
If the infestation remained unchecked, 1.1 million coconut trees would have been lost or “dried out”. This would have also deprived the local coconut producers the opportunity to harvest 47 million nuts worth 470 million pesos in the first year alone. A slump in the nut supply of this magnitude would have severely affected the share of the coconut industry in country’s net foreign revenues. By virtue of the Executive Order No. 169, S. 2014, a concerted government intervention paved the way for the control of the CSI, the rehabilitation of pest infested areas and the implementation of livelihood projects.
Marcelo Mauleon is just one of the coconut farmers in Alaminos, Laguna, who were affected by the CSI infestation. With the help of the PCA through its CSIEAP, his coconut plantation continuously recovers from the infestation and nut yields are steadily increasing.
Massive Treatment and Quarantine Operations
With the collaborative efforts of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), University of Los Baños (UPLB), the Philippine Council for Agricultural, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) and other government institutions, a treatment protocol was developed and implemented in the CSI affected areas. Based on the conducted PCA-UPLB rapid ground assessment in Region IV-A, 42% of 2.6 million infested coconut trees or 1.1 million trees were declared pest free on December 2014.
Photo shows the recovering coconut trees in Calauan, Laguna and were declared pest-free on on December 2014
The treatment of the CSI affected areas was also accelerated with an incentivized model involving coconut farmers, tenants and locals. In this arrangement, trained farmers, tenants and locals provided the manpower requirements for the treatment operations (leaf pruning and trunk injecting trees) while the PCA paid PhP 20.00 per tree (leaf pruning), PhP 8.00 per tree (trunk injection using electric drills) and PhP 20.00 per tree (trunk injection using manual drills). The PCA provided the chemicals for the trunk injection operations. This resulted to the payment of 52.8 million pesos worth of replacement income to 27,134 barangay based workers.
The positive effect of the CSIEAP treatment operations was later affirmed by Dr. Priyanthi Fernando, an International Invasive Insect Pest Specialist from United Nations: Food and Agriculture Organization, when she said: “due to the emergency actions taken by the government, climatic factors and natural enemies, the pest has subsided and the CSI [coconut scale insect] is currently in a non-outbreak status.”
She also added: “the [PCA, UPLB and PCAARRD] researchers should be commended for their commitment in undertaking a large amount of studies during a short period of two (2) years. These studies have made immense contribution to the state of knowledge of a new invasive pest [. . .] [of which] very little [is] known.”
Although the treatment of the infested coconut trees has been successful, the PCA maintains 26 quarantine checkpoints in the country to prevent the mechanical dispersal of the pest. Also, natural enemies or biological control agents (BCAs) which prey on CSI are continuously released in vulnerable areas to avert pest resurgence. The BCAs are produced in five (5) PCA laboratories.
Rehabilitation and Livelihood Projects
Apart from the pest surveillance and treatment activities, the PCA has allotted ₱73 million for the implementation of the rehabilitation projects to encourage coconut planting/ replanting, nutrient management, and diversified coconut farming in Region IV-A.
Identified coconut farming communities received high yielding coconut seedlings for the replacement of severely damaged coconut trees. To augment the income of the farmer beneficiaries before the coconut seedlings bear fruit in four (4) to five (5) years, planting materials suitable for coconut intercropping are currently being distributed.
Mario Eseo and Pilar Eseo, tenant farmers in Barangay Paliparan, Calauan, Laguna, were exhilarated after their two (2) month old chili plants from PCA matured.
“Malaking tulong at may aasahan na kami na pambili ng bigas dahil sa bunga ng sili,” they said. (The initiative is of great help to us. We now have enough budget to purchase milled rice because of the chili plants)
Apart from the pest surveillance and treatment activities, PCA is also implementing the coconut intercropping program in which materials suitable for planting are being distributed to augment the income of the farmer-beneficiary before the coconut seedlings bear fruit in four to five years. Photo shows Mr. Mario Eseo, one of the farmer-beneficiaries, in his chili garden. Their weekly harvest from their chili garden gives them an additional income from P400.00-P500.00
The couple added that their weekly harvest from their chili garden fetches them an additional income of PhP 400.00 to PhP 500.00.
While the focus of the projects is geared towards the affected farmers, PCA also boosts the health of the coconut trees through the application of fertilizers based on soil tests.
Roberto Cueto, one of the many fertilizer beneficiaries in Calauan, Laguna, stressed that providing nutrients to the soil is an integral part of rehabilitation.
“Kailangan ang abono para gumanda ang ani ng mga apektadong puno. Parang pagbigay ng bitamina sa taong may sakit lang yan,” Cueto explained. (Fertilizing affected trees is as important as providing vitamins to a person who is ill)
The PCA expects that the provision of fertilizers to the affected farmers will help increase their annual nut yields by as much as 85 nuts per tree after three to four years of regular fertilizer applications.
Building an Adamant Industry
PCA along with its partner agencies and stakeholders has learned a lot from the onslaught of the CSI. The tough pain points of the program aimed at controlling the CSI and rehabilitating the affected areas did not undermine its positive results two (2) years after its implementation. The PCA continues to find new ways in adapting and mitigating future disasters.
Fostering innovation through cooperation. The PCA worked with private institutions, local government units and state universities to develop protocols for the treatment of the CSI. Today, it is currently working with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in improving pest surveillance and survey protocols with the use of information and communication technology (ICT). The PCA hopes that this development will hasten the data gathering and interpretation procedure for the CSI and other pests.
Information and action. Knowledge on the profile and nature of the CSI was sparse in 2014 among affected farmers. To address this, PCA, along with local government units in Batangas, Laguna and Quezon, piloted Farmer Field Schools (FFS) aimed at helping coconut producers understand the nature of the CSI and adopt sustainable pest management practices in Region IV-A. The FFS program later included topics on the latest coconut farming practices and techniques. With the introduction of this form of education, farmers will be guided in making the appropriate farm decisions.