Coconut oil is one of the healthiest oils in the world, and you may have noticed the price creeping up in the last few years. One of the reasons is due to the looming agricultural crisis in the Philippines, one of the world’s largest coconut producers. The coconut industry, which supports millions of Filipinos is slowly dying because of a massive insect infestation that has to date claimed 2 million trees. The irony is, the infestation is easy to arrest using inexpensive organic means, but the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) has sold out to the chemical industry which may kill the entire coconut economy that the Philippines and much of the world depends on.
Of the 340 million trees in 2012, 40% are too old, leaving the industry with 204 million productive trees, according to PCA figures. Typhoon Yolanda, one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, devasted the Philippines on November 8th, 2013. It was recorded as the deadliest Philippine typhoon ever killing at least 6,268 people. Yolanda destroyed 33 million trees, and the infestation has so far destroyed 2 million, leaving the nation with a net of 169 million trees. Due to Yolanda and the infestation, the maritime southeast Asian nation has lost 20% or a fifth of all their coconut trees.
In Earlier in the year, two faculty member-researchers of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) identified the pest which the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) said is responsible for the massive infestation in the four provinces of Calabarzon region alone. Celia Medina and Barbara Caoili, both members of the Task Force Scale Insect Comprehensive Action Program (Sicap) designed to combat the aggravating coconut scale-insect infestation nationwide, claimed they had positively identified the pest as Aspidiotus destructor rigidus (Reyne), a subspecies of Aspidiotus destructor. They said the pest originated from Mindanao.
Caoili said it is important to know the identity of the insect first to have an effective control of the massive coconut-scale infestation now plaguing the coconut trees in Batangas, Laguna, Quezon and Cavite provinces.
The coconut scale, also known as Aspidiotus sp. or the cocolisap, is a common pest of coconuts and bananas. It can also infect a wide spectrum of other host plants such as avocado, breadfruit, mango, guava and papaya. This increases their capability to spread and survive.
The hard-scale beetle was said to have been reported first in Sangi island in Indonesia and based from morphology and DNA analysis, matched those found in Batangas, Caoili said.
“We are 99-percent positive that the coconut-scale insect infesting coconut trees in Batangas is aspidiotus rigidus rather than aspidiotus destructor which we have earlier suspected to have been the ones responsible for the massive coconut infestation,” Caoili said.
Coconut scale prefers the underside of leaves where it sucks plant juices and excretes toxins through their salivary glands. Severe infestations forms a continuous overlapping crust of thousands of scales per leaf, resulting in the leaf turning yellow, withering and dying.
PCA Insisting On A Chemical Solution
There have been several successes from the private sector to resolve such infestations through inexpensive organic means. But the PCA insists on a chemical solution. The chemical option involves the use of a highly toxic chemical injected into the trunk of the tree. 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.
Why a chemical solution? 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. According to an Inquirerreport, the deadly chemical is marketed by LEADS Agricultural Products, Inc., whose Chair and President is Fernando Maldeva, a UP frat brother of Dr. Rey Velasco, a PCA consultant. Velasco is the former Chancellor of UP Los Banos.
President Aquino issued Executive Order No. 169 last June 05 establishing emergency measures to combat the invasive species.
According to the nationalist and for-the-people group of scientists, Agham, “about 338 million coconut trees are threatened by CSI. Losses have reached P179.6 million in Calabarzon alone. The severity of the infestation forced the BS Aquino Government to declare a state of emergency with the issuance of Executive Order (EO) 169.”
The Order specified the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) to lead the nationwide effort to manage and eventually eradicate this massive infestation that threatens our $2 billion coconut industry and the livelihood of our coconut farming families. However, the PCA had not pursued any viable option to treat the problem. 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.
The use of chemicals is not stated by the Executive Order (EO). It is enough that the PCA is empowered and has the legal means to use chemicals on the pretext of an emergency situation. The EO does not have an Implementing Rules and Regulation (IRR) yet, but PCA is gung-ho in the big-bucks chemical program. There were rumors from unidentified sources that PCA will start its chemical program this month, which remains to be verified.
“We shall guarantee transparency in the disbursements of government resources in the implementation of these measures”, Secretary Kiko emphasized in a meeting of the National Task Force on the control of scale insects.
For the implementation of these quarantine measures, as stipulated in EO 169 and in the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Special Order No. 1, Series of 2014, the BPI may deputize PCA, DA Regional Field Offices, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement agencies.
Natural Pest Control Is The Solution
It has been suggested that President Aquino should step in and promote organic methods to prevent further collapse of the industry. The demise of the Coconut Industry through the use of chemicals will be blamed on him. The lives of millions of marginal Filipinos are in his hand. If he does not act, it will also imply he has been bought out by Big Chemical and international interests.
“The current widespread problem of coconut scale infestation (CSI) could have been prevented five years ago,” said Ms. Finesa Cosico, an entomologist and Secretary General of AGHAM- Advocates of Science and Technology for the People.
“Immediate action from the government could have accurately identified the pest early on so that appropriate pest management was implemented to stop it from spreading,” she said.
Studies in Taiwan showed important natural enemies of Aspidiotus can be brought in to control the infestation. These species were so effective in controlling the coconut pest in areas with a rich flora that no chemical control measures were required there. An predator eradication programme would bring necessary control to prevent the spread of Aspidiotus.
Integrated Pest Management system must be institutionalized that includes all pest control measures such as the introduction of natural enemies, application of organic pesticides to ensure effectiviness of pest control strategies.
In 2010, the Philippines was still considered the biggest producer of copra or dessicated coconut in the world. Now, Indonesia has overtaken that claim because of a myopic Philippine government with its corrupt agencies whose only concern is money.
The health benefits of coconut oil are on the verge of being discovered by the masses in the west. With benefits such as sress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength, coconut oil could be considered one of the healthiest superfoods in the world. These benefits of the oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-fungal, antibacterial and soothing properties.
Please share this information with as many people as possible to pressure the Philippine Government to demand change from the PCA in their course of action from chemicals or organic pest control programs. The coconut industry depends on it.
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy. He is also a writer for the health website Prevent Disease, where this article was originally featured.