Puerto Rico’s agriculture takes $780 million hit

Last week the Category 4 Hurricane Maria slowly crawled across the Caribbean, leaving devastation in its wake. In the aftermath, a big focus of the media has been Puerto Rico, which lost all electricity island-wide, something unfathomable to many in developed nations that depend on power for most daily needs.

Both individuals and industries have been heavily impacted by the storm, which followed another hurricane, Irma, by only a matter of days. And with the island’s predominant industries, manufacturing and service, now facing major damages, its smaller agriculture industry is looking at a very deep hole to crawl out of as well.

“I have never seen losses like these in any of my 80 years,” farm foreman Félix Ortiz Delgado told the New York Times. The farm he worked on lost a vast amount of coconut trees to strong winds and rain. “Those palms take about 10 years to grow. I will be dead by then.”

Farms were destroyed, with plants ripped from the ground and trees knocked completely over. Many roads were buried in mud during landslides, eliminating infrastructure that farmers depend on.

Carlos Flores Ortega, of Puerto Rico’s Department of Agriculture, said around 80% of the island’s agriculture was wiped out. Maria is “one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry.” So far, Puerto Rico is reporting a $780 million hit to agriculture, far more than other major hurricanes in recent decades.

According to the Times, Puerto Rico already imports over 80% of its food. Losing much of its domestic crop may cause that number to spike.

Agriculture makes up around 1% of the island’s GDP, with manufacturing and the service industry almost evenly forming the rest, according to the CIA World Factbook. The biggest crops are sugarcane, coffee, pineapples, plantains and bananas. Chickens comprise the majority of animals raised, followed by dairy cattle.

Many people hope that recovery will allow Puerto Rico’s agriculture to come back better than ever, as facilities and infrastructure are rebuilt to be sturdier than they once were.

“Agriculture is the most vulnerable sector to natural disasters,” said Flores. “But it’s also the one that can have the speediest recovery, and it’ll be the great surprise in the Puerto Rican economy, because we’re going to come back stronger.”

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