Among the astounding damage that Hurricane Maria has unleashed on Puerto Rico is a nearly fatal blow to the island’s agricultural industry. According to Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Agriculture, Maria has wiped out nearly 80% of the territory’s farming industry, to the tune of $780 million in loss.
Trees are stripped of both leaves and bark, with entire fields simply bare, blown away by Maria’s unrelenting winds. The Times reported that it only took a matter of hours for the storm to become one of the costliest in the history of the island’s agriculture industry.
Crops of banana, plantain and coffee were damaged the most, Agriculture department officials told the newspaper. Infrastructure for livestock, including chicken coops and dairy barns, were destroyed and entire plantations are gone.
Puerto Rico is already in a recession, and the island imports 85% of its food. The damage from Maria is likely to cause import food prices to rise even further. Farmer José A. Rivera elaborated to the New York Times:
“Sometimes when there are shortages, the price of plantain goes up from $1 to $1.25. This time, there won’t be any price increase; there won’t be any product,” Mr. Rivera said. “When I heard the meteorologist say that the two had turned into a three and then a four, I thought, ‘Agriculture in Puerto Rico is over.’ This really is a catastrophe.”
He noted that other islands that export food to Puerto Rico, such as the Dominican Republic, Dominica and St. Martin, were also hit, and that the food supply could be even more precarious if the island’s other suppliers were also affected.
Dairy farmers are forced to throw away thousands of liters of milk a day, as the product spoils with no power and impassable roads. Entire fields of plantain trees now sit bare and laid to waste.
But one farmer has exhibited a can-do, hopeful spirit:
Mr. Pinto also lost all of his cattle. Literally. He does not know where they are.
He plans to start over as he did a decade ago when he lost everything to a flood. He will get about 35 percent of the value back from insurance, and will not quit, he said, using an expression that has become a popular hashtag: #yonomequito — I will not give up.
“A people without agriculture,” he said, “are a people without food.”
Please pray for Puerto Rico and consider donating to an organization that will help relieve the devastation that Maria has wrought on the island.