Scourge of cocolisap
I traveled recently to the west coast of Zamboanga City, which has around 30,000 hectares of coconut trees, to take a look at the cocolisap infestation. It is very serious. I am afraid the infestation will flare up come dry season from November-April like what happened in Basilan in 2013 and 2014. Today, 80 percent of Basilan’s 70,000 hectares of coconuts is dead or dying. Farmers and their families are hungry and angry.
I talked to several coconut farmers. Their attitude to cocolisap is this: “Este animal no puede para, no puede cura.” (We cannot stop or cure this pest.) Even while jobless farmers from Basilan are evacuating to Zamboanga City for work, farmers in the city are resigned to the death of their coconut trees, their principal source of livelihood.
But there is a shining exception. The 350 hectares of coconut farm in the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Research Center in San Ramon are not only able to resist cocolisap, but thriving with yields of 100-150 nuts per tree per year, while the national average is 35. PCA is using a regime of fertilization and pruning of leaves prone to infestation.
Boy Palacat, head of the agriculture office of Zamboanga City, told me that he is offering farmers P10 a tree to prune, but there are no takers. An experienced coco harvester can prune 10 trees a day and just get a measly P100 for a day’s work, while a few hours of fishing on a small banca can give him a catch worth P400.
What if the price is upped to P30 per tree, and the scheme includes fertilization and massive production of cocolisap predators at farm level? What if there is a full mobilization of government agencies, barangays, and farmers to save the coconut trees?
About 600,000 hectares of coconuts, or 20 percent of all coconut farms in the country, are in Western Mindanao — including Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga peninsula — and Misamis Occidental. They are in grave danger of dying from the scourge of cocolisap in the next three years if this virulent infestation cannot be stopped. Next in line is the rest of Mindanao which has 35 percent of the country’s coconuts.
The devastation of Basilan’s coconut trees by cocolisap is a clear signal that the long-neglected industry’s death is speeding up. Zamboanga City needs all the help to stop cocolisap from spreading further. And Basilan needs all the help to save the tree of life.
IBARRA “BONG” MALONZO, president, KCCDMFI, Zamboanga City
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