Despite national directives allowing agricultural-related operations to continue during the quarantine, two major mills in Bukidnon province that produce 82 percent of Mindanao’s total sugar output were forced to shut down following a local directive enforcing a total lockdown in the province.

This has prompted the Department of Agriculture to renew calls on local government units to reconsider policies hampering operations related to food production, processing, transport and trade in order to prevent supply disruptions and price spikes during this state of emergency.

In Bukidnon, a directive was issued placing the entire province under total lockdown from April 13 to 26 after listing its first case of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Some agri-related businesses, including sugar mills and pineapple and banana plantations, were told to shut down during the period.

These include Crystal Sugar Company Inc. and Bukidnon Sugar Milling Co., which produce most of Mindanao’s sugar demand and comprise 16 percent of the country’s total sugar production.

“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,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said.

“I laud your efforts to regulate the spread of COVID-19 in your province … 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 added.

There are about 19,000 employees who work at the sugar mills and several banana and pineapple manufacturers in Bukidnon.

The closure is feared to displace workers who do not have other streams of income.

Dar noted in his letter to the provincial government of Bukidnon the closure of essential establishments could worsen the economic impact of the pandemic. Already, the sugar industry saw prices of the commodity decline by P200 per 50-kilogram bag.

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