Monday, July 28, 2014

PCA allays fear of ‘cocolisap’ infestation in Bicol
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, July 25 (PNA) – When a news that the dreaded coconut scale insects (CSI), which the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) calls “cocolisap” had already reached the island- province of Catanduanes broke out, the agency’s regional office for Bicol based here was quick to declare it as a “false alarm.”

Not any coconut plantation in Bicol, which includes Catanduanes, has been detected by now to be affected by the pest that has been creating troubles in Southern Tagalog provinces, PCA Regional Director Mateo Zipagan on Friday said.

And while it is not impossible for cocolisap to reach Bicol when dispersed by the wind, Zipagan said his office and local government authorities have been keeping defenses fortified and making sure that it does not stage a “surprise attack.”

Also known as aspidiotus destructor signoret (Hemiptera: Diaspididae), CSI are small insects which are plant parasites that usually cause problems not only in coconut nurseries and young palms but also among those that are already bearing nuts.

Its enigmatic nature, which is very small and remains undetected for long periods — during which it rapidly multiplies before infested leaves show signs of yellowing, is a big problem being encountered by PCA in dealing with this pest, according to Zipagan.

On infested coconut plants, these insects reside underneath the leaves of young palms while in affected bearing palms, they are found not only at the underside of the leaves but also on the surface of the fruits and petioles.

These insect pests cause yellowing or chlorosis, wilting, premature nutfall and low yield because they continuously siphon off the plant sap with their specialized mouth parts.

Thick sooty molds grow on the honeydew excreted by these insects, preventing photosynthesis.

In the process, coconut trees die because CSIs block leaf pores, preventing leaves from producing nutrients for the tree.

So far, according to the PCA regional chief, coconut plants in Bicol, particularly in Camarines Norte -- the region’s province closest to Southern Tagalog, remain free of the pest and the news that broke out in Catanduanes about its alleged infestation in some plantations in the island was false.

What actually affects coconut plants in Catanduanes as well as in some parts of Bicol that the PCA is now actually attending to is brontispa (coconut leaf beetle), another plant-devastating insect that feasts on young coconut leaves, Zipagan said.

Some 18,000 hectares of coconut lands representing about 15 percent of the province’s plantations are affected by this pest, he noted.

It will not be easy for CSI to be carried by the wind and cross Maqueda Bay to reach Catanduanes but still, coconut trees in the island can be affected through birds that feed on the insects and fly to the island, he said.

To make sure that cocolisap does not stage a “surprise attack” on Bicol’s coconuts, Zipagan said, an awareness campaign has been put in place by his office in partnership with local government units (LGUs), initially in Camarines Norte.

The local media have also been tapped to help in the information dissemination drive to make the farmers more aware on how to combat the possible infestation, Zipagan said.

And to arm Bicol with effective anti-cocolisap fighting tools, the PCA regional chief said, mass breeding of predatory coccinellids (Cryptolemus and Telsimia) beetles that eat scale insects in the affected areas is also ongoing.

“We will release these predators once the CSI is detected in any part of Bicol,” he said.

On the other hand, the Albay Research Center (ARC), the study arm of PCA based in Guinobatan, Albay, is looking for sustainable long-term solutions -- one of which is biological control.

This initiative is being collaborated by ARC with the Bureau of Plant Industry’s Plant Quarantine Service and National Crop Protection Center, both of the Department of Agriculture.

CSI infestation started in some parts of Southern Tagalog Region in 2012 with a 3.62-percent infestation.

Last year, the pest was detected in Quezon Province and latest PCA reports said that as much as 10 percent of coconut plantations in the area has been so far damaged, with the amount of industry losses placed at around Php 170 million.

The same reports said the infestation is now nearing the doorsteps of Bicol as few areas are already affected in Tagkawayan, a town that borders Camarines Norte.

As another counter-measure, Zipagan said his office has set up a quarantine area at Barangay Tabugon, Sta. Elena, Camarines Norte, to monitor the entry of coconut products.

A one-kilometer-wide buffer zone straddling the Quezon-Bicol border has also been set up and monitored daily by technicians while more than 24,000 of the yellow-black beetles have been released into the field to help control the infestation in some areas.

Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan has already created a national task force to look into and implement necessary measures to address infestation, with Malacañang authorizing the use of Php 700 million from the coco levy fund in the fight. (PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/cbd/