Before World War II, the island of Puerto Rico had an economy based on its agriculture: mainly sugar cane and tobacco. After the war, manual agriculture was quickly replaced by industrialization, but later – as a result of economic recession – Puerto Ricans returned to manually tending key crops like plantains, bananas, coffee and more. Since then, the agriculture industry has grown between 3 and 5% every year. About 85% of Puerto Rico’s annual produce harvest including coffee, bananas, rice, and plantains is exported to other countries and mainland United States.
On Wednesday, September 20th, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria. The estimated cost of destruction has risen to over 90 billion dollars. Structural damages, lack of food supplies, mass layoffs, and cut water and electricity are the order of the day. Maria’s passage devastated the island’s agriculture, leaving 80% of crops destroyed as stated by Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Agriculture, Carlos A. Flores Ortega.
Although the Department of Agriculture of Puerto Rico (DA) prepared for the hurricane, no one knew just how intense and destructive it would be. Between flooding, mud slides, and the winds of over 180 miles per hour, the island’s agriculture was almost entirely decimated. Preliminary figures estimate that agriculture losses surpassed $2,000 million dollars. In the next few weeks the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide the island with assistance to aid farms and begin building agriculture again, according to a statement made by the DA.
Despite the devastation and the challenges to come, many farmers see an opportunity to enter into a modern way of conducting agriculture on the island. According to the New York Times, local senator Eduardo Bhatia Gautier said, “We can start developing an agriculture industry that is more profitable and start exporting Puerto Rican products [internationally]- something this island hasn’t done in decades.”
Secretary of Agriculture Mr. Flores and his work team have begun to visit the different agricultural regions of the island to inform the farmers about the DA’s recovery plan for the agricultural industry. Other initiatives have also been set in motion with the Agriculture Commission of the Puerto Rican Lawyer Association to help growers to fill in FEMA applications and insurance claims, create new market connections, and much more.
Some of the incentives that the DA will provide include agricultural machinery for cleaning debris and preparing land for new plantings. In addition, farmers could receive insurance compensation, equipment investment incentives, structure investment incentives, replacement heifer financing, and a three-month lease moratorium on damaged Land Authority farms. The federal government will assist farmers with federal aid for emergency loans, replacement of farm animals, preparation of land, and planting of timber trees.
With 80% percent of agriculture devastated it will take time to rebuild this industry, and still more time to start exporting the produce to the US and other countries. In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria left the island and took with her the houses, plantations, and greenery that characterize the island. Still, it could never take the smiles, the hope, and the resilience of our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.
Do you want to help farmworkers and their families in Puerto Rico? Make a donation to PathStone Corporation Puerto Rico Disaster Recovery Fund by visiting: http://bit.ly/2xAoucZ