Puerto Rico's Farmers Face a Long Road to Recovery
On the morning of September 21, 2017, Carlos Lago and Justina Díaz Bisbal emerged from their household into a post-apocalyptic world. Their once-lush five-acre fruit farm in southern Puerto Rico was entirely stripped of its foliage. Tree limbs were broken or twisted; pieces of metal from nearby homes, trash, and even a mattress were strewn across their property. The damage wrought by Hurricane Maria was unlike anything the older couple had ever witnessed.
“Upon seeing all of the destruction, we looked at each other,” Díaz Bisbal told Earther in Spanish. “I asked, ‘What do we do now?’ He [Lago] answered, ‘We start over.’”
Maria wiped out 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s crops and exposed the island’s lack of locally-produced food. Before the storm, Puerto Rico was importing more than 85 percent of its food. In its immediate aftermath, that number jumped to 95 percent. Plantains, a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine, had to be brought in in from surrounding islands; coffee crops were decimated. A lack of electricity to power irrigation systems and farming machinery exacerbated how long most farms were out of action, while the Jones Act—an obscure relic from 1920—initially stalled deliveries of much-needed relief supplies such as animal feed, by requiring them to be transported via U.S. vessels. (The Act was waived for Puerto Rico about a week after the storm struck.)