The Philippine Seed Industry Association, the biggest seed organization in the Philippines, warns of a possible food shortage if local government units continue to block the transport of seeds and other agricultural products because of the enhanced community quarantine.
Dr. Mary Ann P. Sayoc, PSIA president, said that the Department of Agriculture has already issued memorandum circulars allowing the continued operation of agriculture and seed companies which were closely coordinated with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease.
However, some LGUs are reportedly not complying with the said guidelines and continue to block the transport of agricultural commodities.
“As seed is the starting point of the food system, unrestricted movement of seeds is critical to food security,” revealed Sayoc.
“In order to ensure that food production will continue, all seed production, processing and distribution activities should be exempted from any ban,” she added.
Sayoc noted that it is critical for seeds to be planted this April right before the rainy season starts, especially because the main season for planting vegetables runs from October to April when the weather is usually dry.
“If farmers do not get their seeds in time for the planting season this will lead to food and feed shortages which we cannot afford during these trying times,” Sayoc added.
According to Sayoc, PSIA member companies are still experiencing difficulties in transporting agricultural commodities and in the movement of necessary farm manpower since some LGUs have implemented their own strict community quarantine and checkpoint policies that are not consistent with the IATF guidelines.
Sayoc encouraged LGUs to heed the IATF-approved measures set by the Department of Agriculture to prevent disruptions in the food supply chain that could impact the country’s food security.
Included in these measures are: All farming activities shall be allowed to continue; all healthy farmers, farmworkers, and agribusiness personnel shall be exempted from restricted movement; operations of agricultural supply stores shall be allowed and movement of all supplies used for agriculture including food packaging and manufacturing materials should be unhampered.
The DA has opened special food lanes where food and agricultural input delivery vehicles can pass unhampered. The special lanes are meant to allow unimpeded passage of all vehicles carrying essential food commodities, agri-fishery products and inputs, including seeds.
In a statement, DA chief William Dar emphasized that free movement of food and agriculture inputs is crucial to stabilize food prices.
“It’s the law of supply and demand. Stabilization of prices will only be possible if there is enough supplies in the markets,” Dar emphasized.
“This is exactly why the unhampered movement of food supplies should be one priority in this war against COVID-19, else, all our efforts will be in vain if we have nothing to feed our people,” he added.
Sayoc also said that the movement of farmers and agricultural workers should also not be hampered since they are not only a critical link in the food supply chain, they also represent a large portion of the country’s employment population.
According to the latest report of the Philippine Statistics Authority on agriculture, around 10 million persons are employed in the agriculture sector, which represents 24 percent of the country’s workforce.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government, likewise, released an advisory last March 25 reiterating the importance of the LGUs’ adherence to prescribed protocols to ensure the availability of food during the pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is currently no evidence showing that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food and seeds. The CDC explained that the coronavirus in general has a poor survival rate on surfaces so the likelihood of spreading the virus from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures is very low.
Sayoc added that plant-based food like vegetables and fruits are great sources of nutrients and minerals, and, in a crisis like this, it is important that farmers are able to grow them so the public can have access to them.
“Let us all work together. Public-private cooperation is very important in preventing the spread of COVID-19 without compromising our food security, the livelihood of our farmers, and the health and nutrition of our consumers,” said Sayoc.