Puerto Rico Agriculture: The decline
This research sought to examine Puerto Rico’s agriculture, and its development from the nineteenth century to the twenty first century. Like many other Caribbean and third world countries its economy used to mainly be dependent on its food products. Since its primitive time, Puerto Rico have depended on its agriculture for economic stability. Like many other Caribbean countries back in the 1900s, sugar cane, and tobacco were the main food products bringing money into the island. Puerto Rican agriculture was primarily devoted to crops which were grown then sold in other countries. One of the main issues faced in the export system of Puerto Rico, was competition. Farmers had to compete with other farmers from other regions and also taxes on those items. However although crops were flourishing and bringing in money, today we find that agriculture has taken a back seat. Pharmaceutical companies and manufacturing have taken over the economic state of the island leaving farmer in trouble. Today we find that a lot of land that could be used for agriculture is being used for urbanization. In this paper we want to take look back at Puerto Rican agriculture and focus on the changes that have happened since the early 1700s and now. We want to examine the reasons why the agriculture have changed and why it is not the main source for revenue anymore in Puerto Rico. What I seek to really answer is the correlation between Puerto Rico and the other surrounding islands, and why their economic developments have changed so much. Why did their economy shift from being agricultural to industrial? How does tax and other countries play an effect in the way things are today. Why have industrialism taken over the island and technology companies and pharmaceutical companies. Why farming suffering is as much as it is today, the challenge that comes with writing about agrarian Puerto Rico is the lack of books and papers about the subject all together.
This infographic gives a GPD percentage of 5 of the major economic sectors in Puerto Rico
Farming began in Puerto Rico around 100AD, and the first people of Puerto Rico were the Taino, who were hunter-gatherers who live in small villages led by a chief. Though at the time their knowledge of agriculture was limited they still found a way to grow pineapples, cassava and sweet potatoes. At the time they called the island Boriken. By 1493 Columbus arrived on the island and claimed it for Spain. From then on the island was governed by the Spaniards. During that time from 1450-1500s sugar was an important commodity in the Caribbean. Although sugar cane was booming in most of the Caribbean regions, in the beginning it was not growing at the same pace for Puerto Ricans. One of the reasons was because the government lacked commercial knowledge. There was not enough financial capital to modernized sugar production, thus resulting in a slow start in export. another reason why agriculture was slow in blooming and also bringing in the revenue it needed to bring was because as demands for sugar become higher, the production became slower. The reason production became slower is because they did not have the necessary technological tools needed to increase productivity. They also did not have enough people working the plantations, unlike the other Caribbean nations at the time Puerto Rico did not have many slaves in the plantations. So with the production of sugar going low, by 1598 ginger replaced sugar as main cash crops.
In 1736 however coffee arrives on the island. By 1776, it became an important export in Puerto Rico. One of the main reasons why coffee preplaced sugar as a main cash crop is because coffee production was much easier. Farmers could grow the coffee plant without relying on technological tools to produce it. Coffee did not need a special land to grow because it could grow anywhere where crops originally could not grow. The coffee plant is able to grow in mixed farming operations; it did not need more technological tools to produce coffee. Coffee started blooming also because everyone drank coffee and it was in high demands. Because coffee was in high demand and it required little to grow it, Puerto Ricans were able to jump on the coffee business and boon their economic status. Coffee started being shipped to France, Great Britain, Germany and Italy. It is also believed that coffee production in Puerto Rico is the reason why The U.S felt the need to invade the country and take possession of the island. White plantation owners would rent land and have their own coffee plantations on the island. According to Bergad “ The most important factor for coffee production were credits and marketing arrangements” (Bergad 71) because Puerto rico was a third world country, they really could not establish a stable banking system which affected the way credits were run and also the way land renting went. Just like the sugar production, it is difficult to truly go deep into coffee production because of the lack of information that there is on the subject. While coffee continued to help the island economically the slave population at the time in Puerto Rico continued to grow and by the 1800s the number had reached over 13000 slaves working in plantations. Sugarcane production before was small-scale but due to the large plantations use of African slaves, production increased.
Impact of US relation on Agriculture
By 1898 United States wins the Spanish-American war which then gave them power over Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines. A New Deal was set into motion by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that created the Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration (PRRA), which also provided for agricultural development on the island. At the time the appointed governor of Puerto Rico was Luis Muñoz Marin. Governor Muñoz would travel to Washington to demand more for the people of Puerto Rico. He went out of his way to ask the secretary of agriculture at the time to help in revamping agriculture in Puerto Rico. Through those meeting a new deal economist was created to help land reform in Puerto Rico. Through his leadership Puerto Rico had received more than $40 million dollars in loan and over 80,000 new jobs for the people on the island. The island started booming economically from there, many people had jobs and the island’s agriculture state was exceptional. Coffee continued to be a main cash crop on the island and farmers were able to grow yams, cassava and so much more in the land. Unfortunately by 1998 hurricane George wreaked havoc on the land. Hurricane George caused over $2 billion in damages, and the island could not recover from then on.
The question that has been on my mind since I started this course was what exactly went wrong with agriculture in Puerto Rico? One of the aspect of the research is to figure out why the economy in Puerto Rico has shifted from agricultural to industrial. Research shows that a lot of the agricultural lands were lost to urbanization. In her book “Land Reform in Puerto Rico: Modernizing the Colonial State, 1941-1969.” Garcia Colon examined the reign of the New Dealers in Washington in the 1930’s and how they brought incredible changes to Puerto Rican society. When the US invaded Puerto Rico one of the first things President Roosevelt did was set a New Deal motion into place. As Garcia explains some of these changes included a new land redistribution plan that was formalized in the 1941 Land Law, which was aimed at enfranchising, empowering, and urbanizing the landless workers by resettling them in parcels that they would own. With these new urban communities built, community cooperation and services such as potable water, electricity, education, and sanitation followed. The result was that twenty years after the passage of the Land Law Puerto Rico was cited internationally as a model of modern development. For me that I wasn’t enough I needed more information. I then found an article by López, Tania Del Mar that describes the rate and distribution of urban growth in Puerto Rico. From the years 1977 to 1994. The percentages shows that Puerto Rico being classified as urban is 11.3%. Tania Del Mar states that after 17 years, “urban areas had increased by 27.4% and urban growth on soils that was suitable for agriculture had increased by 41.6%.” This means that there was a loss of 6% of potential agricultural lands. That means that if this pattern continues, Puerto Rico’s potential for food production in the future could be greatly limited. For centuries, Puerto Rico has mainly depended on agriculture as an economic resource, because capitalizing on the land was successful for Puerto Rico and many parts of the Caribbean. But sadly if the land is not producing any crops what can farmer do? In a recent documentary on the farming life in Jamaica, we see that farmers are dealing with the fact that they are barely making any money off of the crops that they are growing. Not only to the fact that no factories or other industries have taking over the economic ladder, it’s also the fact that these countries are importing more than they are exporting. Which leave locally grown produced suffering.
With the agriculture suffering in Puerto Rico many farmers are struggling to make ends meet. Due to the lack of resources for farmers many have decided to leave the land and work elsewhere. The secretary of agriculture is now lending a helping hand to the farmers struggling in Puerto Rico. There are many different organizations around the island that are there to help farmers whether it is financially or personally. From an article I found online I learned about Hacienda san Pedro which is a company that is a fully integrated coffee farming, processing, roasting, and retailing enterprise, with coffee production near Jayuya and two cafés in San Juan. The businessperson behind the coffee shops studied chemical engineering at UPR and worked for several years in the pharmaceutical industry before getting laid off, which I believe are great assets if someone wants to grow crops on the island of Puerto Rico. After trying unsuccessfully to find work for eight months, he and his wife decided to launch a coffee business. Puerto Rico needed consumer outlets dedicated to serving its own high quality beans not exporting it. Hacienda san Pedro is more than a retail business, the coffee shops have served to showcase this coffee to consumers and educate them about high quality coffee, creating a market for bulk coffee on the Island. Educating the people on the island on how to market the coffee being grown from the land is a sure way to boost Puerto Rico’s economic state.
As of 2015, 80 percent of Puerto Rico food supply is imported. The sea food, rice, beans and many more are all imported from either the U.S, china or other Latin American countries. It’s no shock that farmers aren’t able to live off of their products because people don’t go to small farmers markets to purchase their produce anymore. On an island where the job market is poor and where most people don’t attend school to work a job in the corporate world, farming is the way of life for most; however if food are being imported from other countries, then it leaves local produce to be put on the back burner. Most of the lands are urbanized leaving little land for real agriculture. But the bigger issue is that because most of the food is imported, its dependency on import makes the island vulnerable to any catastrophe that happens. If another hurricane were to hit Puerto Rico or something catastrophic happens in the United States or the ship sinks and food supplies cannot come then there will be famine on the island. Therefore the best thing for the people of Puerto Rico is to embrace their agrarian lifestyle again and stop depending on other places for their food. In losing agriculture, Puerto Rico would lose its identity and its culture.
The New Era
Amazingly today in Puerto Rico many are trying to reintroduce agriculture to the island. They want to bring back authentic organic food that is grown from their own land. In the article “Puerto Rico’s Eco-Farmers Go Back to the Land.” I was able to learn about the jibaros in Puerto Rico. Jibaros are rural peasants who work their land. They are known as farmers. They use their tools to not only dig for goods within the land but they also plant seeds in order to grow crops to feed their family. Eco farmers on the island are trying to bring awareness to organic agriculture and making a business by selling healthy food to the island. Young people all over Puerto Rico are heading back to the land and starting organic farms up in the mountains, growing everything from coffee to kale. Embedded is a sound cloud podcast that gives more information on jibaros in the island.
These eco farmers are trying to reduce the percentage of food that is imported on the island. They are also starting businesses that promote eating more organic foods, and promoting organic agriculture. Their goal is not only to encourage the people of Puerto Rico to grow crops from their own land but also introduce a healthier way of living.
Agriculture in Puerto Rico and many other islands in the Caribbean is very important. I think that it is important to bring light to the subject, although other bigger world events seem to preoccupy us the most. From doing this research I observed that there is a lack of articles and books on agriculture on the islands and the shifting happening right now. The question of statehood and the status of Puerto Rico seems to take precedent over the land in which they live in. But more than ever the focus should be on the economic issues of Puerto Rico and how agriculture could be the way to nourish the land financially. Luis Muñoz Marin was able to do it back in the 1900s so who says Puerto Rico cannot do it again? After you read this article ask yourself what can be done in order to fix this issue and lower the percentage of food being imported, how can we get the products to be exported instead? And most importantly what can we do to help new farmers excel their businesses in Puerto Rico?
Tabitha Noel is a senior at Rutgers University, majoring in Criminal Justice and minoring in Latino and Caribbean Studies. Her passion includes singing and criminal laws. Tabitha sang the national anthem for both middle school and high school graduation. As for her major this past semester Tabitha had the opportunity to intern at the Essex County Prosecutors Office where she had the opportunity to work with prosecutors, judges, and legal assistants.She is the vice president of the Haitian Association and a member of A-life which is a christian base group on campus. She hopes to one day become a Prosecutor in hopes to travel to Haiti and make a difference in not only the justice system but also the government. Though she is not Puerto Rican she feels that this research can also relate to Haiti and the importance of agriculture. She hopes that this research can be an eye opener to not only the people of Puerto Rico but to every island in the Caribbean.