Instead of using sustainable solutions, government is taking the quick and toxic solution to the cocolisap infestation. Peasant groups smell corruption and agri-TNCs interests.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Different farmers’ groups, scientists and toxicologist expressed alarm over the government’s “toxic” response to the outbreak of the coconut scale insect, commonly known as cocolisap. They said that while it is the quickest way to combat the outbreak, it will also kill the main source of livelihood of coconut farmers.
The solution of the government, through the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), is the spraying and insecticide trunk injection of neonicotinoids, which, according to scientists’ group Agham, is lethal to the environment and the people.
According to a research, cocolisap (Aspidiotus destructor rigidus) is a small plant parasite that feeds on the leaves of young palms and on the surface of fruits that results to yellowing and wilting of the leaves. The cocolisap prevents photosynthesis, causing premature nut fall and low productivity.
Finesa Cosico, secretary general of Agham, said the PCA has raised the cocolisap infestation to pest outbreak. “At least 60 percent of the total coconut farming areas in the country, most of which are in the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) area, are infected with cocolisap and it has crossed over to Basilan in Mindanao region,” Cosico said in a round table discussion held on July 18. The discussion was attended by representatives from the Philippine Coconut Society, Basud Coconut and Pineapple Cooperative, Virgin Coconut Oil Producers and Traders, Kapisanan ng Magsasaka, Mangingisda, Manggagawa ng Pilipinas (KAMMMPi), Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas among others.
What is neonicotinoids?
Neonicotinoids according to Cosico, an Entomologist, is highly toxic to bees. It has an active ingredient called Dinotefuran, a type of pesticide that controls various types of insect pests applied through systemic method such as soil application, systemic basal bark sprays and trunk injection.
She said Dinotefuran is highly soluble to water and highly mobile, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), meaning that this type of pesticide easily leaches to the subsurface. It is also resistant to biodegradation.
The Pesticide Action Network International also included Dinotefuran in its list of Highly Hazardous Pesticide (HHP) that should have been globally phased out in 2010 due to its toxicity to bees. It was also found by the USEPA to be very toxic to estuarine and marine invertebrates.
In a statement, Agham explained that Dinotefuran takes effect when absorbed by a plant’s vascular system. It is expressed through pollen, nectar and guttation droplets from which pollinators such as bees forage and drink.
Coconut crop is a cross-pollinated type of plant that depends on either self-pollination or pollination by an agent such as wind or honey bees.
When neonicotinoid is used on a cocolisap-infested tree, it does not only kill pests like cocolisap but also the biological control agents or natural enemies. Cosico said these natural enemies such as wasps and beetles can regulate the population of cocolisap and thus prevent infestation.
Cosico also cited findings of the Japan Endocrine-disruptor Preventive Action in 2010 saying that exposure to neonicotinoid systemic insecticide would result to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). “CCD is a phenomenon describe as mass disappearance of pollinators, that can be induced by pathogens, parasites, and other stressors including poor productivity and introduction of pesticides. This was first observed in the US in October 2006 as manifested by the absence or low population of honey bees in a hive with a living queen according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service.”
An article also reported that neonicotinoids have negative impact on insectivorous birds or birds that depend on insects as food. “Where the chemical was heavily used, bird populations fell by 3.5% a year; where it was not, they held up,” the report read.
Toxicologist and president of Pesticide Action Network-Asia and the Pacific Romeo Quijano also said that residues of neonicotinoids also have negative effect to human health. “The residue of neonicotinoids does not wash off from crops and it poses risks to the people’s health,” Quijano said. He added that exposure to neonicotinoids can cause cancer and abnormalities to the unborn child.
“As they are systemic insecticides, neonicotinoids will occur as residues in foods and will not wash off. For example imidacloprid has been found in many foods including chestnuts, ginger, vegetables, potatoes, tea, wine, fruit, and fruit juices. The residues do not breakdown rapidly and are unchanged by processing. In the US, residues were found in 80 percent of bananas, 76 percent of cauliflower and 72 percent of spinach,” read the pesticide fact-sheet of the PAN-AP.
Neglect of coconut industry
The United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization has identified the Philippines as the second largest producer of coconuts in the world. The National Anti-Poverty Commission 2011 data showed that the Philippine coconut industry contributes an average of $935 million to the annual export earning from 2001-2009 and represents 5.21 percent of the gross value added (GVA) in agriculture.
But despite this fact, the coconut industry in the Philippines has been neglected by the government.
Cosico said according to their initial studies, cocolisap has been infesting coconut trees since 2009 in Tanauan, Batangas. “In 2012, experts from UP Los Baños, through its coconut scale insect program in Batangas, said that there are efforts to regulate the infestation of cocolisap into a significant level. Come 2014, we were shocked that the PCA has raised a pest outbreak, meaning it is already severe,” Cosico said.
Estrella Catarata, executive director of Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes (PNFSP), an organization that promotes sustainable agriculture, said that based on their consultations with the farmers, cocolisap is not a new pest that infests coconut trees.
“They (the farmers) said there are organic and natural ways to combat cocolisap and a synthetic pesticide is no longer needed to get rid of these pests.” She also pointed out that a robust coconut tree cannot be infested by cocolisap. “According to the farmers, an organic way to make a coconut tree robust is by composting four kilos of salt per tree per year. This is much cheaper than the synthetic pesticide. But the government has not been doing this. They have neglected our farmers and the coconut industry and now that the industry is in crisis, instead of resolving the problem in a natural way, their response is toxic not only to the environment but to the people also.”
Professor Edward Deveza, a member of the Virgin Coconut Oil Producers and Traders also expressed alarm over the use of pesticide to the infected coconut trees. “Virgin coconut oil is organic. If the coconut trees will be sprayed with this harmful pesticide, virgin coconut oil products will be affected. It may not pass accreditation as an organic product. The local virgin coconut oil producers have expressed their apprehension against the use of these pesticides, as scientists have different findings on the effect of neonicotinoids.”
‘Integrated pest management’
For Agham, Cosico said the effective and comprehensive way to combat the cocolisap infestation is through integrated pest management. “Integrated Pest Management combines cultural practices such as multi-cropping, physical methods such as pruning and removal of affected trees as among the pest control strategies that could be utilized to contain the infestation problem of CSI.”
Cosico added, “Administration of strict protocols on quarantine would also limit the transmission of the pest in areas not yet affected b the infestation. The use of synthetic pesticide must be a last resort, especially in the case of the CSI because of the lethal effects of dinotefuran to beneficial insects.”
Ben Palisoc from Basud Coconut and Pineapple Cooperative and a consultant of the Agricultural Training Institute agreed that the effective way to control the infestation is through the IPM. “If those in authority will remain deaf to the offered solutions by other organizations and they will insist on the use of this pesticide, then we should be the one who should act and do what is right.”
For Sonny Domingo, founder and head of KAMMPi, a small farmers association, the P750 million ($1.7 million) cocolisap funds or funds to combat the cocolisap would be more beneficial for the coconut farmers if it would be used as funds to support coconut farmers’ organizations. “Give them the money so they can cluster and conduct public education on biological control of the cocolisap. The solution is there already.”
The P750 million funds were allocated by the government to address the cocolisap infestation.
He also said that injecting or spraying pesticides do not only kill the pests, but the products that were also produced by coconut such as virgin coconut oil and coconut water. “Eventually, farmers whose livelihood depends on these products will be dead too.”
Nestor Villanueva, Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (Claim)-Southern Tagalog spokesman, said small coconut farmers demand that the PCA and President Benigno S. Aquino III government immediately stop the use of neonicotinoids in combating cocolisap.
“Instead of injecting toxic chemicals that are poisonous to coconut trees, coconut farmers, and coconut consumers, the government should instead explore various options that are already being used by farmers and recommended by experts like integrated pest management,” said Villanueva.
A worse infestation
Meanwhile, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and (Claim) urged Congress to investigate what they described as cocolisap syndicate inside the PCA that is allegedly cornering the P750 million funds to address the cocolisap infestation.
“The President’s solution to the cocolisap infestation smacks of corruption and conflict of interest worse than the cocolisap infestation itself,” Mariano said.
The groups were referring to reports that Dr. Rey Velasco, PCA consultant and a former chancellor of the UP Los Baños is a fraternity brother of Fernando Maldeva, chair and president of Leads Agricultural Corp. – the sole distributor of Starkle, a brand of neonicotinoids by agrochemical giant Mitsui, that is being injected to coconut tree trunks to poison the cocolisap.
Mariano said Aquino’s Executive Order 169 is designed to legitimize the brazen and systematic plunder in the PCA under the guise of fighting the coco pests, which can be addressed through organic and non-toxic means. The EO 169 was signed by Aquino to control, manage, and eventually eradicate the cocolisap.
“The IPM strategy in agriculture is not being used by the government due to its subservience to agrochemical corporations – the likes of Syngenta, Bayer, and Mutsui, makers of neonicotinoids. After poisoning farmers and rice fields with hazardous pesticides, agro-chem TNCs backed by the Aquino government are now targeting our coconut farmers,” said Mariano.