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 region’s future food and energy security leaves barely a flag unfurled. Their contention is that both the local and federal government are quite content to keep the island 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 clear plan articulated on how to move quickly more sustainable and secure energy alternatives.
Facing this lack of visionary leadership, volunteer organizations are quickly 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 motvated to change.
Just weeks after the storm hit Puerto Rican born students Gabriela Collazo and Fernando Maldonado, along with Maldonado’s wife, Arielle Zurzolo, began gathering support to lend assistance in the crisis. The three had moved to California to study as apprentices at UCSC’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, a program that drew its inspiration from master gardener Alan Chadwick, and sowed the seedbed of an 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 and elsewhere. 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-cropped farms of Puerto Rico remain vulnerable to powerful storms, a new diversity of smaller farms growing their own diverse mixtures of rooted and leafy plants could make both the soil and the society more resilient to inclement weather in the future.