Gov’t releases Php 400-M initial fund to address coco infestation

By , on June 10, 2014

Wikipedia photo
Wikipedia photo

MANILA — Budget and Management Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad on Tuesday said an initial P400 million has already been made available to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) to combat the coconut insect infestation now plaguing the country’s coconut industry.

Abad said the funding will mainly support the PCA’s “Scale Insect Emergency Action Program,” following the issuance of Executive Order No. 169, which declared parts of CALABARZON and the island of Basilan in a state of emergency.

“It’s extremely important for us to move fast in quelling the infestation in all affected areas. We have already set emergency measures designed to do just this and fend off further infestation in other regions and areas in the country,” he said.

Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization secretary Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan earlier said some P750 million is needed to combat the coconut infestation “Aspidiotus Rigidus,” which has already destroyed almost two million trees.

“This is our detailed budget for the period of six months beginning June, broken down as follows: Phase I (June to August) is P460-million; Phase II, P204-million; and Phase III, P88-million,” said Pangilinan in a press briefing in Malacanang on Monday.

He said the the program to be implemented for six months (June-November 2014), includes pruning and burning of drying leaves, which will be done in an “integrated approach.”

Pangilinan said this will include injection of insecticides, pruning and burning, scale insect laboratory to produce these biocontrol agents, rehabilitation, surveillance, and quarantine.

“Then we will do a trunk injection, after which there will be spraying using organic material, organic pesticide. After spraying, we will release biocontrol agents, which is the friendly ‘kulisap’, and then we do fertilization and strengthening or providing more sustenance and nutrients to the trees so that it will recover faster,” he noted.

Simultaneous with that, Pangilinan said, there will also be quarantining wherein checkpoints will be set up in key areas of CALABARZON with coco infestation to prevent the spread of the pest.

“We will also have fertilization, inter-cropping, livelihood intervention in order to address the damage and the loss of income of our farmers,” he said, adding that mass rearing of biocontrol agents, that is raising the friendly “kulisaps”, will also be implemented to help contain coconut pests.

“Aspidiotus rigidus” is not endemic to the country. Authorities believed it has entered the country via the Batangas port.

The specie primarily attacks plant leaves, eventually killing the plants.

According to PCA data, around 1,084,531 coconut trees were affected by the pest in the provinces of Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, Cavite, and Basilan as of May 2014.

The Philippines is the top supplier of coconut products in the world market, with the industry having an estimated US$ 2 billion net foreign earnings.

It also provides livelihood to some 3.5 million coconut farmers all over the country.

According to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), annual production of coconut dropped by 3.3 percent — from 15.86 million metric tons (MT) in 2012 to 15.34 million MT last year.

At present, Pangilinan said around 60 percent of coco production were already lost due to infestation in CALABARZON provinces.

If the pests spread to other coco-producing provinces like in Regions 4, 5, and 9, and left without intervention, he said an estimated P32 billion losses will be incurred by the industry.

Abad assured that the government has enough funds to protect the country’s booming coconut industry.

“The focus is really to assist our coconut farmers whose livelihoods are greatly affected by this development, as well as to safeguard the country’s coconut-growing areas,” he said.

The DBM chief said the P400-million initial funding — reallocated and sourced from PCA’s existing budget for other programs and projects — will support the first phase of the emergency program.