Department of Agriculture fears sugar price spike as coronavirus shuts mills

April 16, 2020 - 12:27 PM
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The shutdown of two of the Philippines‘ major sugar mills due to coronavirus-containment measures could lead to a domestic shortage and trigger price spikes, the country’s farm minister said on Wednesday.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar appealed to Bukidnon Governor Jose Maria Zubiri Jr., who placed the southern province under total lockdown from April 13 to April 26 after it recorded its first coronavirus case, to minimize any economic impacts.

Two major sugar mills, Crystal Sugar Company Inc and Bukidnon Sugar Milling Co, have stopped operating as a result of the provincial directive, Dar said in a statement.

The two mills produce 82% of total sugar output of the southern island of Mindanao and account for 16% of the country’s total production.

The Southeast Asian nation is not a regular sugar importer, but when necessary it usually buys from Thailand, the world’s second-largest exporter after Brazil.

While Dar commended Zubiri’s move to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he said all local governments “should ensure that any health-related measures will not disrupt the food supply chain”.

Zubiri’s directive has also barred banana and pineapple plantations in the province from operating during the two-week lockdown, Dar said, without identifying the affected fruit producers.

Bukidnon is home to one of the world’s largest pineapple plantations, which is owned by Del Monte Philippines Inc , a unit of Singapore-listed Del Monte Pacific Ltd .

In a statement sent to Reuters, however, Del Monte Philippines said its pineapple operations in Bukidnon were allowed to continue and its personnel were exempted from home quarantine.

“Our operations have continued across all our sites and facilities, including Bukidnon plantations and Bugo manufacturing in Cagayan de Oro (province),” the company said.

Dar said the directive had affected about 19,000 workers employed by the two sugar mills and fruit producers.

“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,” Dar said in a letter to Zubiri.

A spokesperson for Bukidnon province did not immediately reply to a request for comment. —Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; editing by Richard Pullin and Mark Potter