Saturday, September 27, 2014

Puerto Rico: "If They Closed the Docks, We'd Starve," Experts Say

According to EFE, Puerto Rico is far from achieving food security because it imports between 85-87% of its daily food consumption, partly due to neglect of the island’s farm sector as well as to increased urban development in recent decades, several experts report.

Gladys González, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), said in an interview with EFE that the island’s geographical limitations prevent it from producing enough food to feed the entire population.

Based on the US Department of Agriculture’s 2012 census, the amount of farm land in Puerto Rico expanded to 584,988 acres, but only 433,563 acres were under active cultivation.

The 2014 amendment to Puerto Rican Law 550 requires that between 600,000 and 700,000 acres of land throughout the Commonwealth be set aside for crop production.

“Today approximately 74.11% of the farms are under cultivation. This means that there is still potential to increase local production by at least 20%,” González said.

The Puerto Rico Planning Board’s 2010 Economic Report to the Governor and Legislative Assembly indicated that the island mainly imports products such as cereals, meat, fish, rice, coffee and fruit. Dairy products and eggs, among other products, are produced locally.

The spokesman for the United Front for Defense of the Lajas Valley, Alfredo Vivoni, told EFE that although historically Puerto Rico has not been close to ensuring sufficient food production, sugarcane, rice, coffee and corn crops were produced on a larger scale at the beginning of the 20th Century than at present.

COMMENT: In the 1950s the Commonwealth’s economic policy focused primarily on the manufacturing sector and the service industry and de-emphasized agriculture.

The adoption of imported US urban models for large cities also hurt the farm sector since housing construction and urban development grew at a rapid pace.

“In the 1970s you see how the fields of San Juan, Ponce and Caguas began to be sown with cement,” Vivoni emphasized.

Fernando Perez Muñoz, an associate professor in the UPR’s Food Science and Technology Program, said the lack of food security on the island is due to the face “we’re not organized” as a Commonwealth.

Perez explained that food security is made up of two levels: agricultural production and food processing--and added that Puerto Rico should focus on between five and 10 farm products to feed the entire population.

“If they closed the docks, we’d starve,” Perez said. Perez also recommended promoting the food processing industry on the island.

Researchers said deficiencies in the agricultural system are significant “because we lack manpower and cannot control the spread of pests or natural disasters, which determine the crops’ success or failure.”

“In Puerto Rico, the food industry has not prospered because it’s an industry with a small profit margin, where high-volume sales at low prices are needed to turn a profit,” he said.


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