By Ellalyn de Vera-Ruiz
The Department of Agriculture (DA) warned on Wednesday of possible artificial shortage and price hikes on sugar due to the shutdown of mills in Bukidnon.
Bukidnon Gov. Jose Maria Zubiri Jr. had earlier issued a directive placing the entire province under total lockdown from April 13 to April 26.
The provincial executive order imposes a strict home quarantine for all residents, and allows essential establishments to operate under strict safety precautions.
However, some agriculture-related businesses, including sugar mills, pineapple, and banana plantations were told to shut down their operations for the duration of the lockdown.
In his letter to Zubiri, DA Secretary William Dar said “such restrictive policy would only result in artificial shortage and thus price spikes.”
Two major sugar mills, Crystal Sugar Company Inc. and Bukidnon Sugar Milling Co., have shut down their operations as a result of the provincial directive.
The combined production of the two sugar mills account for 82 percent of Mindanao’s total sugar output, and 16 percent of the country’s total production.
“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,” Dar said.
“Thus, we appeal for your deeper understanding on the importance of the unhampered movement of food and agricultural workers in minimizing the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” he added.
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 in the financial dislocation of thousands of their employees,” Dar said.
There are about 19,000 employees who are working in the two sugar mills and several banana and pineapple companies in Bukidnon.
Dar reiterated his appeal to all local chief executives nationwide 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.
“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,” Dar said.