Marie McGrory (National Geographic) reports Puerto Rico’s farms and the resilience shown on the island with the help of government and grassroots efforts, which are helping agriculture “recover from Hurricane Maria—and emerge stronger than before.” Here are excerpts; see full article at National Geographic:
“You could hear chainsaws everywhere,” says Owen Ingley, director of Plenitud Teaching Center, an educational farm in Las Marias Puerto Rico. It was the second day following the most devastating hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 80 years. The municipality of Las Marias was out to work clearing roads and checking in on neighbors. “The collective understanding was that the government and the municipality were going to be very busy,” Ingley says. “No one was going to wait for them to come down our small road.”
Eighty percent of the U.S. territory’s crop value was decimated by the storm, says Carlos Flores Ortega, the Secretary for the Department of Agriculture for Puerto Rico. Estimates of the damages to the agriculture industry alone run up to $2 billion. This is a massive hit to an industry that, NPR reports, was experiencing a renaissance before the storm.
Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, just days after Hurricane Irma destroyed $45 million in crop value. Maria is the worst storm in memory for most Puerto Ricans, but tropical storms cause damage, on a smaller scale, each year. Yet Flores Ortega is confident that Puerto Rico’s agriculture sector will come back stronger than before, based on his government’s ambitious goals to decrease the amount of food imported to the island from 85 percent to 70 percent.
But with a long road to recovery ahead, some farms are bringing hope to their communities. Plenitud, and other farms that are part of The Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica, already use sustainable farming methods such as storm water management, digging swales, and using permaculture practices to make their farms more efficient and resilient.
Supporters hope this grassroots approach has the potential for significant impact on the future of farming in Puerto Rico. Following the storm, a Whatsapp thread including about a hundred of these farmers and allied organizations coordinated relief efforts between their communities.
Others have been developing their resilience strategies for years. Plenitud, for example, has spent the past five years hosting university students, engineers, and other visitors who volunteer on the farm while learning about sustainable design and permaculture principles. I was one of those visitors in 2012, just after they established their farm in Las Marias, about two hours west of San Juan. [. . .]
[Photo above by Joe Raedle, Getty. While some crops, such as root vegetables, were able to withstand the harsh winds of Hurricane Maria, larger plants like papaya and coffee were devastated. Carlos Flores Ortega, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture for Puerto Rico, says banana trees, like those seen here, were completely lost to the hurricane that rattled the archipelago on September 20.]