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New pest threatens to wipe out RP coconut industry
By Lilybeth G. Ison

MANILA, May 20 (PNA) - The Philippine government warned of a new malady
which threatens to wipe out the country's US$ 760 million coconut industry
in three years' time.

Called the coconut hispine beetle (Brontispa longissima Gestro), it has
already affected about 70,000 trees or 700 hectares of coconut plantation.

CIIF Oil Mills Group president and CEO Danilo M. Coronacion, in an
interview during the Farmers Night held recently at the Hotel
Intercontinental, said these pests are native to Papua New Guinea and
Indonesia and were brought to the Philippines in 2004 through ornamental
plants imported from Thailand and Vietnam.

These pests were first spotted preying on palm trees along the Baywalk
strip of Roxas Boulevard in Manila and along the stretch of Silang to
Dasmarinas highway in Cavite.

Coronacion said the infestation had spread in different areas throughout
the country from southern Luzon to Mindanao.

According to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Brontispa feeds on
young leaves, which then appear burned or scorched and may cause death to
young palms and those situated in poor growing conditions.

The beetle causes great damage to seedlings and mature coconut palms,
kills the young spears and eventually the whole palm. Ornamental palms
suffer the same fate.

The larva and adult are the destructive stages. They damage the epiderms
of the young leaves that eventually provide easy entry for pathogens. The
adult is not capable of long flights but its long life span lasting from
75 to 90 days is responsible for the short distance spread of the insect.

On the other hand, the larva feeds throughout its growing period, which
normally lasts for 36 days. Both larva and adult stay between unopened
leaflets of young coconut spears. They feed on the soft tissues but spare
the hardier veins and mid-ribs. Affected parts decay and dry up, thus
preventing the coconut palm from bearing fruits, it said.

The PCA said the eggs of this beetle are difficult to detect because they
are inserted between leaflets. Thus, planting materials of coconuts and
ornamental that are intended for transport to non-infested areas should be
inspected thoroughly.

It said chemical spraying is ineffective against this pest and is
hazardous to non-target organisms and the environment in general.

Based on the study conducted by the Philippine Council for Agriculture,
Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), the pest
is best controlled by pruning, clean culture, and proper disposal of
infested coconut palms or parts thereof.

Biological control is also advisable by using the fungi, Metarrhizium and
Beauveria, and the parasitoid, Ascodes hispinarum.

The hispine beetle is considered one of the most damaging pests of coconut
and other palm species. The beetle is endemic in Sulawesi, Indonesia and
Papua New Guinea, and spread in the late 1990s to Southeast Asia and
Maldives where it severely damaged coconut production. (PNA)

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