Up in arms vs cocolisap

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Monday, August 25, 2014


COCONUT farmers in Davao Region are now up in arms against the so-called "cocolisap" or the coconut scale insect (CSI) -- an insect with small, flat yellowish scale with a semi-transparent or whitish, waxy covering -- which already destroyed millions of coconut trees in Calabarzon region.

Although the infestation has yet to affect the region, counter measures have been taken this early with the launch of "Save the Coconut Movement" recently in anticipation of an army of cocolisap that may reach Mindanao by wind, this being the means of dispersal.

A female cocolisap lays about 90 eggs over a period of nine days and has a lifecycle of 32 days.

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Three species of cocolisap have been identified in the Philippines: Aspidiotus Destructor, Aspidiotus Rigidus, and Aspidiotus Excisus. In other parts of the world, 66 species of Aspidiotus have already been listed.

The Aspidiotus Destructor and Rigidus are the ones invading the coconut farms in Calabarzon, affecting over two million trees already and spreading to areas of Quezon as of April 2014, according to Egay Eugenio, founder of the "Save the Coconut Movement".

The affected trees accounted for at least 0.6 percent out of the 328 million trees in the country.

The Destructor is known endemic and minor pests of coconut while the rigidus was never known before the country and only discovered until recently. They are also causing damages to mangosteen.

To say Davao Region is still free from "cocolisap" is wrong because AspidiotusExcisus has been found in Cateel and Boston, Davao Oriental but at low levels.

In 2012, Davao Region recorded a total of 164,677 hectares planted with coconuts, with an average of 120 trees per hectare. The total harvested nuts reached 1,188,016,711.

The possibility of spread on the island is also highly possible if efforts are not done this early. The pests as invasive as cocolisap can spread like wildfire, if not dealt with promptly like in the case of Calabarzon.

"We're not in outbreak proportion. It's (scale insects) just there," said Gil Manalo, officer-in-charge (OIC) of Integrated Crop Protection Division of Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA)-Davao Research Center.

Manalo said climate change also plays a role in the rapid rise of the population of these insects.

In other countries, the infestation is seasonal because it only happens during dry season and will be vanished soon when the rain comes.
"With long drought, or the El Niño, which is expected to come October this year, dyan magkakaroon ng problema," he said.

Since the outbreak, the coconut farmers have been encouraged to do a regular monitoring to find out if there have been scale insects on the crops because these pests are highly-manageable when counter measures are done at an early stage of infestation.

"The problem may be easier to solve if we are lucky to spot the scales early enough and do not neglect them. Prompt identification and treatment measures are imperative to their control. Prompt action with consistent monitoring is the key," the PCA said.

It added that the scale insects feed on the sap from leaf or twig axils, and are known to infest the stressed host. In the farmers' parlance, the stressed plants are the ones that bear fruits.

"Continuous feeding and exchange of toxins from insect mouth parts destroys the leaves. When infestation is high the leaf gradually turns yellow, then turns brown, withers and drops," it said.

Interventions

Insecticides may not work on cocolisap. The eggs hatch into crawlers but the fully-grown scale insects develop a protective outer covering that makes chemical spraying futile.

For his part, Eugenio, in an emailed statement to Sun.Star Davao, said they are promoting the use of spray with soap/detergent or cochin to healthy coconuts, pruning, organic fertilization, and biological control as preventive measures rather than trunk injection.

"The Save the Coconut Movement strongly opposes chemical trunk injection with the use of neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are banned in most countries," he said.

The trunk injection comes with a whole lot of disadvantages for the coconut itself and the human's health.

The use of neonicotinoids to coconuts may affect the ecology by way of colony collapse disorder (CCD) among the bee colonies, the biotic agent responsible for the pollinations, and thus may affect other fruit-bearing trees.

Neonicotinoids can also kill other insects that naturally keep the balance against these pests.

"Neonicotinoids could cause illness, disability or death if the nuts from injected trees are consumed. The coconut industry as a whole will suffer if foreign buyers will refrain from buying chemically-laced coconut products from the Philippines," he said.

The use of this chemical is illegal under the R.A. 10068, "an act providing for the development and promotion of organic agriculture in the Philippines."

Eugenio added if the government will push through with its target of injecting neonicotinoid, "it may spell disaster bigger than the cocolisap infestation. The buyers abroad will be frightened knowing that the persistence of neonicotinoid may last from 40 days to 6 years."

For him, the use of this chemical can affect three industries such as the coconut industry itself, the certified organic farms and the bee keeping industry.

The farmers and businesses that depend on coconut industry will also be affected.

"According to the 2013 industry outlook released by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), 3.5 million farmers work in coconut farms and a total of 25 million Filipinos are either directly or indirectly dependent on coconuts. As many as 3.1 million hectares are planted to coconuts, and the Philippines provides a whopping 59 percent of the world's exported coconut products. The stakes have literally never been higher," he said.

Insect vs insect

There are natural enemies that are reportedly attacking the cocolisap. This can be used to combat the pests, instead of trunk injections.

In a report earlier, the biological approach is a certain species of wasp, initially identified as Paratisoid Tetratichus, a fly-like insect that belongs to aphytis family.

The PCA added several of these natural enemies do great wonders to control the outbreaks in other countries.

Manalo said the wasp plays a big role to contain the population of cocolisap and also in maintaining an ecological balance.

Also, what's keeping the infestation at bay can be greatly attributed to the farmers' approach to organic farming, although there are some who resort to chemical but at a minimal amount.

The nature, it seems, has a way to rescue the coconuts.

Manalo said the wasps have a certain degree of host specificity which only targets the cocolisap.

These insects were discovered in Davao City and Island Garden City of Samal (Igacos).

"May isang scientist who did a study on this at may nakita siyang butas-butas sa katawan tapos meron nakitang wasp," he said.

The Parasitoid Tetratichus, known as pest-predator, can combat cocolisap by laying eggs to its host where they hatch inside.

PCA is still testing the waters if these wasps can be effective in thwarting "cocolisap" in Calabarzon and other areas in Luzon.

"More than 80 percent of CSI had been parasitized and more be found in some coconuts. Many coconut plants in the reported areas infected with cocolisap are already in various stages of recovery (7-12 leaves, 1-2 new flowers)," Eugenio said, citing a study conducted by entomologists conducted by the University of Philippines Los Ba¤os (UPLB).

Other biological control agents identified are coccinellid beetles that are being mass-reared in Lucena City in Quezon and Alaminos Laguna, according to PCA.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 26, 2014.

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