According to Food First, although Hurricane María hit the Caribbean with sufficient fury to turn vegetation from green to brown in a matter of hours, the political will to address the regions future food and energy security is tepid at best. They believe both the Puerto Rican and federal government are content to keep Puerto Rico dependent on fossil fuel, pointing out that almost six months after the disaster 20% of the grid is still without electricity and there is no plan to move toward more sustainable and flexible energy alternatives.
Facing this lack of visionary leadership, volunteer organizations are mobilizing to solve a problem that existed well before the storm arrived, namely a lack of both food and energy sovereignty for the region. While Puerto Rico exports boatloads of bananas, mangos, soy, corn and coffee, it imports roughly 85 percent of its remaining food requirements. The island’s dependency on food imports, while its own rich farmland is dominated by monoculture, is something a growing group of food sovereignty advocates are seeking to change.
Just weeks after the storn Puerto Rican students Gabriela Collazo and Fernando Maldonado, along with Maldonado’s wife, Arielle Zurzolo, gathered support to lend their assistance in the crisis. The three had moved to California to study as apprentices at UCSC’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, the seedbed of the organic agriculture movement that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
The students established the ReGrow Fund with the goal of contributing funds to farmers, seed savers, and food justice organizers who practice and support regional regenerative agricultural practices. Now, thanks to an outpouring of support from the farm center’s network of alumnae, their fundraising effort has already raised more than $13,000 of its $17,500 goal.
And there are other reasons to be optimistic about the future of food sovereignty in the Caribbean. With the last decade witnessing a boom in small-scale sustainable farming, there are now many more inspired young people from both rural and urban communities who fully understand the importance of agroecology to their food sovereignty. Though currently the large, mono-crops of Puerto Rico remain vulnerable to powerful storms, a variety of new smaller farms growing mixtures of rooted and leafy plants could make both the soil and the society more resilient to inclement weather in the future.