by John Gabriel Almera and Alie Peter Neil Galeon
In response to the three-year-clamor of aster growers concerning the infestation of onion armyworms (harabas) in Barangay Bayog, Los Baños, six experts from the National Crop Protection Center (NCPC) taught farmers on proper pesticide use and prevention of aster-related diseases through a student-led forum last April 8, 2019.
Twenty-five farmers participated in the said forum entitled Project Asterisk. The project, which was initiated by the National Service Training Program 2 – Civic Welfare and Training Service (NSTP2 – CWTS) section EF6, also discussed the biology of the onion armyworm (Spodoptera exigua) as well as its early detection and monitoring.
“Dito sa armyworm, talagang lugaw na utak namin. ‘Di namin malaman kung ano ang aming gagawin kasi lahat ng diskarte ng mga magsasaka: patubig, may nagsisiboy pa nga sa umagang umaga, hapon [at] gabi, may nagiispray pa ng gabi, may nanghuhuli pa ng mga uod ng gabi.,” shared Gerardo Banasihan, 39.
(We really ran out of possible solutions with respect to solving armyworm. All of us farmers have already exhausted all means like irrigation, spray pesticides from early morning until night, and some even hunt for such pests at night.)
According to the local aster growers, the infestation of harabas has been affecting their livelihood since 2016. In fact, Banasihan said, the damage to harvest approximately costs P15,000 per stack. Brgy. Bayog farmers usually sell harvested asters in Dangwa in Manila.
Risk for Asters
In a study conducted by the NCPC under the College of Agriculture and Food Science (CAFS) of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), onion armyworms, locally known as harabas, feed on various kinds of plants–primarily on onions. It starts eating the leaves of the plant eventually leading to the bulb or the stem.
According to Scientist Mario Navasero, the said pests may develop resistance towards the repeated use of pesticides through (1) excessive and misuse of insecticides and (2) use of
smuggled and banned insecticides. However, he said, these factors may not be directly true for aster-related pests due to lack of current research.
The scientist also discussed that the pest-related problems may be traced back the mass migration of harabas from mainland China to the Philippines was accompanied by the Northeast Monsoon.
While they claim that they have already identified the root problem even prior to the project itself, aster growers admitted that they still used expensive pesticides with the hope to solve existing local issue even if they have observed that pests slowly becoming immune to it.
“Bumibili po talaga kami ng mamahaling kemikal. Hindi po namin masasabing gamot ‘yun e kasi ‘yun po yung pumipinsala sa amin e… Kaya ko po nasasabi dahil once bumili kami ng gamot na ‘yun at na take na ‘yun ng mga insekto o uod, na i-immune na rin sila. Kaya kahit sa unang gamit ay napinsala, sa susunod na spray ay nabalik pa rin,” Banasihan said.
(We really buy expensive chemicals (pesticides). We can’t say that it’s a pesticide because it causes damage to us… The reason why I was able to say this was because once we buy pesticide and the armyworm has already been exposed to it, they eventually get immune to it. Even after spraying for the next use, armyworm just goes back.)
Proper pesticide use
Although NCPC experts asserted that pesticides “should be the last resort” in address in pests and diseases in plants, University Researcher Carlo Leo Cabral still taught aster farmers some of the good agricultural practices regarding the proper handling of pesticides.
The NCPC Pesticide Management Division officer shared four consideration in selecting pesticides. These include (1) identify the pest to control, (2) assess the urgency of using pesticide or other practical methods can still be applied, (3) cost-effectiveness, and (4) knowledge in proper spraying.
Cabral also reminded the farmers to only buy and use products registered by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA). At present, he said, the office is still checking for aster pesticides. In the absence of these, aster farmers are encouraged to use pesticides specific to crop-pest combination where the same chemical content could best eradicate target pests.
Meanwhile, Melissa Montecalvo identified six of the common diseases associated with aster including (1) Rust, popularly known as “cheese powder”, (2) leaf spot, (3) powdery mildew which is locally known as “abo-abo”, (4) botrytis blight, (5) wilt, and (6) aster yellows.
Although in the country there has been no records yet, Montecalvo expressed that the forum served as a kick starter in studying ornamentals and asters after finding the current problem faced by local farmers.
According to her, one of the main factors for the lack of aster-related researches is the focus of funding agencies in “prioritizing food and plantation crops usually anchored to food security and production.”
For aProf. Emmanuel Bernardo, the faculty-in-charge of the (NSTP2 – CWTS) section EF6 who organized the project, since Project Asterisk was just a one-time activity to satisfy the course’s requirements, then there would be no means for them to continue especially when it comes to financial concerns. However, they would endorse the activity to NCPC to further develop and continue providing assistance to local aster growers.
“Isa po ako sa na interview ng estudyante noon at nagpapasalamat po ako sa mga estudyanteng tumugon sa aming kahilingan. Ayon lang po talaga ang nagbigay ng pagkakataon na yung aming problema sa aming pagtatanim ng aster ay natugunan sa araw na to,” said Remedios Cruzat,56, who has been an aster farmer for 25 years. (I was interviewed by students before and I am thankful to them for responding to our needs. This truly gave us the opportunity to solve our problem in planting aster.)