MANILA – The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday reiterated its appeal to local chief executives (LCEs) to reconsider policies that counter efforts of the national government to ensure continued food production, processing, transport and trade during the coronavirus disease 2019 (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,” DA Secretary William Dar said.

He made the appeal on reports that some local government units (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),” Dar said.

He appealed to Bukidnon Governor Jose Maria Zubiri Jr., who issued a directive placing the entire province of Bukidnon under total lockdown on April 13- 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 only essential establishments to operate under strict safety precautions.

However, agri-related businesses including sugar mills, pineapple and banana plantations were told to close for two weeks.

In his letter to the governor, the DA chief 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 in his letter.

“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.

Two major sugar mills — Crystal Sugar Company Inc. and Bukidnon Sugar Milling Co. — have shut down operations as a result of the directive.

Combined, they produce 82 percent of Mindanao’s total sugar output, and 16 percent 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,” Dar said, relaying concerns by the affected industries.

To date, 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,” Dar said. (PR)