By Tomas Marquez, DA Communications Group

The Department of Agriculture (DA) reiterates its appeal to local chief executives (LCEs) to reconsider policies that counter efforts of the national government to ensure continued operations related to food production, processing, transport and trade aimed at preventing supply disruptions and price spikes, during this period of national state of emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We urge the provincial governors, city and municipal mayors in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, to allow their respective farmers, fishers, and workers in food processing and manufacturing facilities to continue to do their jobs, provided they strictly observe physical distancing, health and sanitation measures,” said Agriculture Secretary William Dar.

He made the appeal on reports that some LGUs have issued directives preventing farmers and workers to do their jobs, as plantations and sugar mills were shut down.

“Such LGU policies counter the DA Memorandum Circular No. 7, issued on March 17, 2020, implementing a Food Resiliency Protocol approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID),” said Secretary Dar.

In particular, he appeals to Bukidnon Governor Jose Maria Zubiri, Jr., who issued a directive, placing the entire province of Bukidnon under total lockdown from April 13 to April 26, 2020, after the province’s first positive case of Covid-19.

The provincial executive order imposes a strict home quarantine for all residents, and allows essential establishments to operate under strict safety precautions, but some agri-related businesses — including sugar mills, pineapple, and banana plantations — were told to shut down operations for two weeks, from April 13 to 26.

In his letter to Governor Zubiri, Secretary Dar said, “such restrictive policy would only result in artificial shortage and thus price spikes.”

“I laud your efforts to regulate the spread of COVID-19 in your province, the highland paradise in the heart of Mindanao. However, when acting to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, we should ensure that any health-related measures will not disrupt the food supply chain,” he said.

“Thus, we appeal for your deeper understanding of the importance of the unhampered movement of food and agricultural workers in minimizing the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” he added.

Two major sugar mills — Crystal Sugar Company Inc. and Bukidnon Sugar Milling Co. — have shut down operations as a result of the provincial directive. Combined, they produce 82 percent (%) of Mindanao’s total sugar output, and 16% of the country’s total production.

Banana and pineapple plantations were also barred from operating during the two-week lockdown.

“Subsequently, disruption in the operations will have a negative impact on the supply chain and will ultimately result to the financial dislocation of thousands of their employees,” the DA chief said, relaying concerns by the affected industries.

At present, there are about 19,000 employees who work at the two sugar mills and several banana and pineapple companies in Bukidnon.

“We are together in this battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. We are also together in this fight to ensure food security of the country,” secretary Dar concluded.

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