Amid reports of shortages of fresh onions at fast-food chains and ongoing armyworm infestations on onion farms in North Luzon, a vice chairman of the House Agriculture and Food Committee urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to prioritize integrated pest management.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda said the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) integrated pest management program is “one of the most successful agricultural programs in the country.”
“Integrated crop protection will be the new normal in climate change. As temperatures rise and climate conditions change, some pests multiply faster and become more resilient. Farmers in northern Luzon are already pointing out that pests like armyworms are getting stronger each season because of, not despite, pesticides,” Salceda said.
“That’s why I recommend the DA classify Integrated Pest Management as a flagship program for the DA, rather than just burying it as a small program under the Agricultural Training Institute [ATI].”
According to legislators, integrated pest management is the use of multiple techniques, including multiple cropping, biological control, habitat manipulation, changing cultural practices, and using resistant cultivars to control and prevent infestations.
Salceda’s recommendations include having at least one farm school offering integrated pest management in each province and ensuring that all community farmers are trained and eventually able to train farmers in integrated pest management.
Salceda cited research suggesting that integrated pest management resulted in farmers spending less on pesticides and generating higher incomes.
“There is strong evidence that the first integrated pest management school in 1994 helped farmer beneficiaries reduce pesticide costs.”
Salceda said army worms continue to ravage onion farms in provinces like Pangasinan.
He said last year’s infestation damaged up to 212 hectares of onion farms, adding that the 2016 infestation affected up to 1,000 hectares.
“This year’s infestation appears to be getting worse and could reach 2016 levels. That was also a year when onion smuggling got so bad that we passed legislation declaring large-scale farm smuggling to be economic sabotage,” Salceda said.
“It can get bad. And I’m very sorry to say that because of climate change, loss of forests, increased use of pesticides, and loss of genetic diversity in crops, we’re going to get infestations every year. Adapting to climate change is not just about preparing for disasters. Pest control will be key to ensuring we have enough food in the face of climate change.
Salceda said he thinks fighting the infestation will be the new normal.
“In the South, we tend to suffer from viruses on our rice, bananas and other crops. So it will be an ongoing national challenge. So it has to be a flagship program.”
As a cautionary tale, Salceda cited the fall of Albay’s abaca industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“We in Albay know very well how pests can impoverish entire generations. There are records showing that we were the richest province in the early 20th century due to abaca exports. As early as the 1960s, the abaca sector had collapsed due to pests, among other things. We never recovered from that. Let this be a warning for the onion and garlic sector in North Luzon, our fruit export sector in Mindanao and our sugar sector in Visayas,” he said.
“Pests will continue to get stronger in this changing global climate. Either we adapt, or we see entire farming sectors wiped out.”