Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Agriculture visits NIFA, addresses food security issues
“We needed to develop a food security plan for the island,” she said. “Our island depends on food imports – that’s a point of vulnerability. We have a critical situation.”
Puerto Rico imports about 85 percent of its food from 52 countries. Some of the imports come from as far away as Australia, but about 80 percent of shipping originates from the American port of Jacksonville, Florida. The freighter El Faro was heading for Puerto Rico when it sank at sea Oct. 1 during Hurricane Joaquin. Other risks to the island’s food supply include worker strikes, and the effects of natural disasters and climate change in the food’s country of origin.
Supporting food security research and development — ensuring that people have consistent access to quality food — is one of NIFA’s primary goals. The agency has provided more than $56 million to Puerto Rico since 2011 to support agricultural programs, including food security.
NIFA-funded projects in Puerto Rico include the fight against citrus greening and support for educational and extension projects.
Comas provided several successes to Puerto Rico’s food security plan, including the increase of local fresh produce to school lunch programs from about 25 percent in 2013 to 60 percent now and promoting family farmers markets and agrotourism.
Evidence that the food security plan is making headway is clear – Puerto Rico has reclaimed more than 30,000 acres of agricultural land and more than 1,700 new farms have begun operations. As a result, agricultural gross income has increased 24 percent in the past few years, up from $739 million in 2011 to $919 million in 2014.
“We’ve increased production by 24 percent,” Comas said. “We’re getting people to think of agriculture as a way of life.”