From drought to storms, agriculture is hard hit
Agriculture secretary stresses industry must adapt to new climate reality
SAN JUAN — The reality of climate change continues to affect global food security, decimating the agricultural industry unevenly across the planet. Experts indicate that in the not too distant future, heat waves and droughts are expected to cause significant decreases in agricultural productivity and increase the risk of food security for vulnerable populations.
However, for the secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Carlos Flores Ortega, it is possible, and inevitable, to adapt agricultural management to the climate reality of the present to maximize the production of agriculture and provide a reliable source of food for the population.
“Our concern in the DA is that what we see is just the tip of the iceberg and we have to focus on the fact that our island is located in the Tropics, where hurricanes pass annually and that will never end, on the contrary. Science tells us that this is going to become stronger and more recurrent. In fact, the seasons of the year have even been ‘rolled’ … now at times, when it rained it no longer rains and vice versa,” said Flores Ortega, adding that “the planet is responding to the damage that human beings have done to it and that the planet is cleansing itself and that these are the effects.
The official stressed that a change of attitude is needed to face this reality and not only to focus on simply receiving financial aid after the passage of a weather event, but on adapting agriculture to the climate’s reality.
“We cannot leave this as the merely small issue of having money every time we lose due to these events. That is the symptom, the disease is that we have to develop a new agriculture to be able to work with those conditions, that is why the DA has been investing money in equipping farmers with solar panels, working with heat-resistant breeds of cattle, and through [plant] tissue [culture] produce shorter, more resistant, plantain plants that can withstand more wind and produce more plantains per [hanging] cluster,” he said.
Flores Ortega also indicated that after Tropical Storm Laura, agriculture reported losses of $5.5 million while, only weeks earlier, Tropical Storm Isaias left $47.5 million worth of lost crops.
“We have to adapt to climate change. The [UN’s] Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and all the countries in the world are already accepting that agriculture has to adapt to the climate; the climate is not going to adapt to us,” he said.
“No matter how much insurance we have, there will be no money to pay for the effects that these damages can bring; therefore, you have to handle the situation in such a way that you can adjust to the climate because we are very vulnerable to this reality,” he added.
Flores Ortega is betting on technological advances in the construction of controlled-environment structures that are resistant to hurricanes and floods, the creation of efficient irrigation systems for periods of drought, new more resilient crops and other advances to maintain agriculture alive and be able to provide food security to the population.
Some $2.6 million for local agriculture
The Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience of Puerto Rico (COR3) together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), announced Wednesday the allocation of more than $2.6 million for the recovery of the island’s agricultural sector.
The injection of funds is expected to provide an economic boost for the industry after the loss of 40 percent of the island’s agricultural infrastructure.
“Agriculture maintains a strong link with the culture on the island and with the people who for generations have worked the land with their own hands. There is a lot of history in these crops and we will continue to do our part to strengthen this sector that is worthy of admiration,” commented the federal coordinator of Disaster Recovery for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands of the United States, Alex Amparo.
Fund approvals include $1.4 million for the Coffee Purchase Program of the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Enterprises Development Administration (Adea by its Spanish acronym), in the Yahuecas sector of Adjuntas, the only place on the island where local and imported coffee is stored for processing.
To date, FEMA has awarded more than $7.2 billion for costs related to hurricanes Irma and María, including projects to help rebuild infrastructure across the island.