Coconut leaf disease reason behind fewer Palm Sunday palaspas in Bukindon

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/21 Apr) – When Catholics here went to attend Mass last Palm Sunday, they found fewer coconut leaves woven like the palm braids waived in Jerusalem when Jesus entered the city before His passion at the cross.

It’s not because it’s a forgotten tradition.

Local palaspas makers blame it to a leaf disease that has destroyed the coconut trees in most towns in the province.

Geffourd Doydora said his family, traditional makers of palaspas in Aglayan village, found fewer useful leaves to use for their production.

His family has observed the coconut leaf disease in their farm for at least three years already. He said the same condition has been observed in neighboring villages.

He said that a tiny insect gets into the leaf’s pores, causing it to dry early, a condition that is also affecting the production of other coconut products like coco wine or “tuba”.

Doydora, 27, is an inmate at the Malaybalay City Jail. He has been designated as a trustee (an inmate that gains the trust of prison managers) and was assigned to the livelihood project of the jail.

Weeks before the Holy Week, the inmates have received orders for 2,000 pieces of palaspas for sale in Malaybalay City. But they were able to produce only 300 pieces because of the low supply of quality young coconut leaves.

Palaspas making is one of the livelihood opportunities offered to the 247 inmates in the jail.

“Our suppliers in Aglayan have complained of young leaves that have dried early due to the disease,” Doydora said.

Each piece, a cluster of three to four sticks, was sold at P10 each at the San Isidro Cathedral on April 16 and 17.

Lyn, 33, a mother of two, said the price of palm braids did not increase. But aside from perhaps waning interest in the palaspas tradition, she also saw fewer vendors.

Doydora said the coconut wine production, too, has gone down. From about 8 to 10 liters per tree in 2007, his family could get only about 2 to 5 liters.

The problem of the coconut leaf beetle has been common throughout Bukidnon and largely observed in Malaybalay and Lantapan areas, according to Estelita Madjos, deputy provincial agriculture officer.

She identified it as the Brontispa insect pest, which has plagued the province since 2006.

Brontispa is a kind of pest that attacks the sheath leaf or young leaf (leaflets) of coconut and palm trees, according to data from the Provincial Agriculture Office posted at the provincial website.

The said beetle can survive living and hiding in a plant for a month, waiting for another leaflet to reappear. Thus, a follow-up spray should be employed. The brontispa invades a 300-meter area and a single adult can lay 120 eggs within three to four days and will hatch within only three days. It can multiply much larva which is also very harmful to the coconut plant.

Madjos said the eradication effort has been difficult because of the pest’s re-occurrence.

According to the provincial government in its website, a total of 5,306 ornamental palms and 4,259 coconut trees were treated during the last quarter of 2006 through spraying, trunk injection and root absorption of pesticides. In 2010, the team conducted again an eradication after the reported 80-percent re-occurrence.

Madjos said the same methods of pest control were employed but this time ACTARA pesticide was used, “which is believed to be more effective.”

In 2006, MindaNews reported about the pest infestation of the coconut industry in Malaybalay City.

Amie Gabriel Lanayan, then Bukidnon provincial agriculture officer, said the coconut pest Brontispa longissima (Gestro) attacked around 3,000 bearing and non-bearing coconut trees by sucking fluids from leaves of young coconuts.

He said then that it was one reason why the provincial government has banned entry of plants and seedlings into the province.

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) has reported of B. longissima’s entry in Luzon earlier this year, forcing it to create the Brontispa Action Team.

Lanayan said the PCA, the Department of Agriculture’s Regional Crop Protection Center, the local government unit of Malaybalay and the Bureau of Plant Industry have coordinated to investigate the pest’s entry into the province.

In 2007, the Department of Agriculture has placed under quarantine 26 provinces in the country for protection against the disease, including Bukidnon and the Davao and Zamboanga provinces.

Madjos said the RCPC in Bangcud, Malaybalay has been active in the control of the pest.

Lanayan said some of the farmers claimed they bought coconut seedlings from Davao City in 2004 but he did not discount the possibility that the seedlings have been smuggled into Mindanao from other countries.

Young coconut leaves reportedly appear burned or scorched resulting from the feeding damage of the coconut leaf beetle. B. longissima is an invasive pest introduced to the country presumably in early 2004 via importation of ornamental palms. It causes great damage to seedlings and mature coconut trees and ornamental palms thereby killing the young spears and eventually the whole tree.

B. longissima is one of the most serious coconut pests in Asia and the Pacific, the Food and Agriculture Organization website said.

For Doydora, they hope the authorities can help them stop the disease so their suppliers can send more coconut leaves for the inmates’ additional livelihood next year. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)