Puerto Rico imports 90% of its food from mainland agribusiness companies despite its fertile soil and tropical landscape. Puerto Rico imports 98% of its energy from mainland fossil fuel companies. Puerto Rico relies heavily on imports from the United States and other countries, as a result, electricity, and food are more expensive than in the mainland. Hurricane Maria demonstrated the unreliability of the United States government to help the people of Puerto Rico and just how dependent on the mainland the people are. Puerto Rico is naturally abundant with the resources to become self-sufficient. Sustainability will be a way for Puerto Rico’s road to recovery.
Due to the Jones Act of 1920, only vessels operated and owned by the United States can carry goods to Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria exposed the world to the reality of Puerto Rico, the United States extracts profits from the island. The profits brought in for the U.S. explains why Puerto Rico has become the oldest colony of the United States. When Maria hit Puerto Rico, it destroyed fields of mono-crop farms and shattered the electric grid. Puerto Rico has the opportunity to begin a new chapter where they can be self-sufficient but also economically and environmentally be better. Farming in Puerto Rico has been on the decline, and those who have monoculture farms lost a way of life because they farmed one crop for export. Monoculture farming leaves the farmer dependent on one crop for the source of income when Maria hit Puerto Rico farmers were unprepared for food shortages. Monoculture farming is not only a disadvantage for the farmers, but it also depletes the soil from its essential nutrients causing problems for future crops.
After Hurricane Maria, almost 80% of the crops in Puerto Rico were destroyed leading to many farmers to retire or leaving the island for the mainland. Puerto Rico’s economy depends on the importation, Puerto Rico produces to export not to consume and what they do consume is imported. Groups like Frutos de Guacabo founded in 2010 have created a collective of local farmers that are creating an ecosystem that impacts the local economy. By promoting and growing locally sourced foods, this allows for the profits to stay within the community. This leads to economic freedom for Puerto Ricans and food sovereignty where they are no longer dependent on mainland imports. Frutos del Guacabo acts like a middle-man they deliver locally-sourced food to over 200 restaurants and hotels on the island.
Another group that encourages food sovereignty is Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica, they educate people on “agroecology” a farming method that revives local agriculture through traditional farming methods rather than a monoculture system. The Organización delivers seeds for community members to plant, thus stimulating the local production. Food sovereignty for Puerto Rico could leave to revolutionary change for the people of Puerto Rico, liberating the Puerto Rican community from the reigns of the mainland. Their goal is to promote food sovereignty and environmental conservation focusing on decolonizing the western ideals of farming and food and going back to ancestral knowledge and education.
Puerto Rico is abundant with sunlight, solar power has begun to the boom on the island after Hurricane Maria. Across the island, many are installing solar panels and battery systems after the Hurricane many people realized that they could not depend on Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority. Resilient Power Puerto Rico is a non-profit organization based in Puerto Rico. The organization has deployed 30 solar and battery systems to community centers across the island. Over the last two years, the organization has increased local access and knowledge on the tools, resources for sustainable and equitable community development. They engage communities that have been underserved and underfunded to provide technical and financial resources for the installation of renewable energy methods.
Casa Pueblo is an organization that is devoted to educating the community on eco-friendly technology and methods. The organization was started by Alexis Massol-González for anti-mining activism to currently wide-scale renewable activism. After Hurricane Maria, the organization was an energy oasis for the nearby communities who found themselves without power. They distributed more than 14,000 solar lamps, solar refrigerators, and fully charged machines for respiratory therapy and dialysis. Organizations and groups like Resilient Power Puerto Rico and Casa Pueblo allow for an increase in the capacity of the communities in Puerto Rico to respond to climate change and natural disasters common to the location of the island.
The argument against sustainability in Puerto Rico has been about the funding and the time that it would take to switch from fossil fuel energy and monoculture to clean renewable energy and sustainable farming. There is also the problem of politics which could become an obstacle for a sustainable future in Puerto Rico. The problems are there with past infrastructures, moving forward for Puerto Rico no matter how small the step is still a step towards a better, sustainable, eco-friendly and self-sufficient Puerto Rico. The first step to freedom is decolonizing our foods, and resources from western traditions.