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VIDEO | After being milked dry of coco levy, Batangas farmers suffer blow from another 'parasite'

Photo of scale insect from
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines - The country's coconut farmers, who haven't benefited from the multibillion-peso coco levy funds, are not unfamiliar with being sucked dry of the fruits of their labor.

But this time, the parasites aren't abusive landlords and leaders, they are scale insects also called Aspidiotos destructors that multiply quickly, attach themselves to trees, and feed on the coconut's sap.

The pest outbreak has recently worsened in Batangas province affecting the cities of Lipa and Tanauan and the towns of Agoncillo, Balete, Calaca, Laurel, Lemery, Malvar, Sto. Tomas, and Talisay.

According to recent data from the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), a total of 686,643 trees in Batangas have been affected by scale insects that destroy coconuts by turning their leaves yellow until the palms turn dry and wilt.

A separate report from Batangas provincial information officer Ginette Segismundo placed the number of damaged trees last year to more than 138,800 in 1,268 hectares of land in Batangas affecting hundreds of farmers, including 64-year-old Crisanta Matira of Barangay Balele, Tanauan City.

The coconuts that Matira had in her 2.5-hectare farm were indeed the trees of life for her and her family.

"My mother used to pawn for P5 that macapuno tree over there, it helped me graduate as a teacher," says Matira in Filipino.
The insects started to attack Matira's coconuts in 2009. At first, the pests only destroyed two of her 300 trees, which used to produce 200 kilos of macapuno that earned her at least P15,000 monthly.

To get rid of the parasites, Matira pruned the affected coconuts. However, the insects, which feed on many types of food, came back six months later and devasted all of Matira's trees.   

It isn't easy for Matira and her fellow Batangas farmers to grow new trees and earn from them. It takes seven to 25 years for the coconuts to mature and bear fruit. Farmers had no choice but to cut down the trees and sell them as coco lumber. 

It wasn't the first time that scale insects invaded Batangas and other parts of the country that have coconut plantations. 

In 1925, an outbreak was also reported on Sangi Island between Celebes and Mindanao where 10 percent or 30,000 trees were destroyed by the insects.

But what makes the latest attack different from previous invasions is the outbreak's longer span and more extensive damage, according to the PCA's Erlene Manohar.

Farmers did not fear the effects of the insects' invasion before, according to Manohar. Attacks usually lasted for only one to three months and the insects used to be considered minor pests feeding on young palms.

"This is the first scale insect outbreak in the entire world. Kakaiba itong nakita natin sa Batangas, pati bunga naapektuhan [This outbreak in Batangas is different from others, even the fruits were affected]," says Manohar.

PCA suspects that the worsening attacks has something to do with climate change and the farmers' "bad agricultural practices such as overuse or misuse of pesticides, particularly on the vegetables and fruit trees planted under coconut."

"Pesticides also kill natural enemies and without natural enemies, thus, the insect pests are free to multiply without any control," said the PCA on its website.

The agency also said that " favorable climatic condition conducive to insect pests favors its multiplication."

"Scale insects multiply faster in hot and dry weather and the 2009 El Nino phenomenon that hit the Southern Luzon, particularly Batangas, allowed the scale insect to reproduce faster and trigger increase in population," it added.

The PCA said the insects had gone beyond Batangas, threatening the livehood of other coconut farmers in Luzon such as in some towns in Laguna, Cavite, and Quezon.

And soon, with no lasting solution to the infestation, a lot more stories, like that of Matira, will be told.

"Nagtatago ako sa sulok ng bahay pag nand'yan na ang power saw na bumubuwal puno, lalo na pag naririnig kong pinuputol na ang mga puno, di ko mapigilang lumuha," Matira says.

[I hide in the corner of my house when the power saw cuts down the trees, I can't help but cry.] - with reports from