Gov’t reveals plan to contain coconut pest outbreak in 6 months

Pia Ranada
The number of infested trees has nearly doubled in 60 days. But the government says it is waging an 'all-out war' against the pest.

RACE AGAINST TIME. The government hopes to stop the spread of the new coconut pest in 6 months. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The government announced its new 5-step plan to contain the spread of the new coconut pest that has so far infested 2.1 million trees in Calabarzon (Region IV-A) and Basilan in Mindanao.

The plan, explained to reporters on Monday, June 30, was developed by a government task force comprised of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Agriculture (DA) and University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

“This protocol has gone through laboratory experiments, field trials and we have had several meetings with the technical scientists from these organizations,” said new PCA Administrator Romulo Arancon Jr who was elected into his position a week before.

The pest, identified through DNA-testing as Aspidiotus rigidus, a type of coconut scale insect never before seen in the Philippines, continues to spread at an alarming rate. (READ: Malacañang issues order to contain coconut pest outbreak)

In around 60 days, from 1.2 million infested trees in May the number has nearly doubled to 2.1 million, according to Secretary Francis Pangilinan, Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization.

This represents 0.6% of the 324 million coconut trees in the country.

Dubbed the “Typhoon Yolanda of pests,” the insect is able to travel 400 meters every month from tree to tree. Within a life cycle of 30 days, females can lay up to 200 eggs. In 45 days, 1,000 of these pests can multiply to about 200,000. At any given time, 4 million of them can be found in a single coconut tree. 

The 5-step intervention is now being aggressively pursued by the task force, assured Arancon.

So far, around 70,000 trees have been subjected to the first step: pruning and cutting of infested leaves. In the next 60 days, they aim to put 22,000 trees a day under the new process.

If all goes as planned, the task force hopes to “manage and contain the pest anywhere between 3 to 6 months,” said Pangilinan. 

Here is the 5-step treatment:

1. Pruning  

  • Harvest all harvestable nuts and put them under quarantine. 
  • Prune the dried drooping and infested leaves.
  • Expose underside of prunes leaves directly under the sun and rain, a method proven to reduce the number of the scale insect. The leaves should be chopped into 3 or more parts to hasten drying. 
  • Chopped leaves should not be moved outside the farm or plantation.

2. Trunk injection using systemic insecticides 

  • Systemic insecticides have active ingredients that get into the plant parts and sap. Insects which eat the leaves and stems or suck the plant sap die or fail to reproduce. 
  • Dinotefuran, a systemic insecticide certified by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) as safe and effective, will be injected into infested trees not older than 65 years old since younger trees have higher chances of surviving. Infested trees older than 65 years will be cut down.
  • Two holes will be drilled into the trunk of each tree. A recommended dosage of 5 grams mixed in 40 milliliters of water will be injected (20 ml of water into each hole). 
  • Injection kills 65% of coconut scale insect in one tree based on field trials. Injection is also supposedly safer for the environment because it does not spread the insecticide to the area around surrounding the tree. 
  • After injection, the trees will be monitored to see if they need follow-up treatment.  
  • The insecticide will leave residue in the coconut meat and coconut water. This residue will be monitored every week until no residue is detected. Residue will supposedly be gone after two months. 
  • Dinotefuran is toxic to insects since it attacks their nervous systems but is “relatively benign” to mammals, including humans. 

3. Spraying of organic or oil-based solution 

  • If after 30 days, the pest population in the tree is significantly lowered by the trunk injection, FPA-approved organic pesticides will be sprayed underneath its leaves. 

4. Release of predators

  • The task force is mass-producing bugs that eat the coconut scale insect. These include the Coccinelid bug species Chilocorus nigrita, Chilocorus circumdata, and Telsimia nitida. 
  • These bugs, called biological control agents, will be released two weeks after the spraying of organic-based pesticides. 
  • Dr Jocelyn Eusebio, the task force’s Research and Development Coordinator, said these insects can only be released after the number of pests in a tree has been significantly lowered. Their field trials showed that the predators get overwhelmed and even stop reproducing if there are too many pests for them to east. 

5. Fertilization 

  • Fertilizers will be applied at the base of trees to help them recover faster. 

'ALL-OUT WAR.' These 3 government officials are in charge of containing the coconut pest (from left to right): DOST Secretary Mario Montejo, Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan, PCA Administrator Romulo Arancon Jr. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler

Too many chemicals?

Responding to criticism from environment groups like Greenpeace that the task force is using too many chemicals, Pangilinan said a combination of chemical and organic solutions have proven to be complementary to each other.

He likened the outbreak to a cancer which, if treated with only a natural cure, would only intensify faster. 

Greenpeace cited a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) when it claimed that other animals, like earthworms and birds, could die from contact with the pesticides being used by the task force.

A budget of P750 million (US$ 17.2 million) has been allotted for the campaign against the pest. Of this, P38.5 million ($882 million) will be spent on the purchase of pesticides. Most of the total budget will go to the hiring and training of coconut farmers to help in implementing the 5-step plan, said Pangilinan. 

This livelihood opportunity is meant to replace, at least for the time being, the income they lost from the infestation of their trees.

The task force welcomes suggestions from other groups on how to fight the pest’s spread. 

“This is a participatory, transparent process,” said Pangilinan. “We continue to do field tests of other proposals in terms of treatment. We will not rest until we are able to test those who claim that their procedures are more effective.” –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at