Addressing the elephant in the room

Puerto Rico farmers struggling to survive after Maria

Puerto Rico farmers

Hurricane Maria has devastated Puerto Rico the US territory that I learned to love during my many travels for 10 years. The culture is so diverse and the food so flavorful and delicious. Farming in Puerto Rico is part of the economy that was thriving.

The economy even before the Hurricane was not in great shape due to Political corruption and closing  Roosevelt Roads military base in 2004. Below is the story of farmers struggling to survive after Maria.

For 21 years Hector Alejandro Santiago spread joy throughout Puerto Rico with the poinsettias, orchids and other ornamental plants he raised and sold to major retailers including Costco, Walmart and Home Depot. In a matter of hours Hurricane Maria wiped it away.

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The greenhouses and other buildings on the 40 acres where he grew the plants and prepared them for customers lie in tatters, ripped to shreds by 155 mph (244 kph) winds and driving rain. Trees are flattened.

“I will need to begin from zero,” said Santiago, 43, whose Cali Nurseries is located in Barranquitas, a small mountain city 34 miles (55 kilometers) southwest of San Juan. He’s determined to rebuild and get back into business despite the losses he estimates at $1.5 million.

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Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm, the strongest to hit the island in a century. At least 16 people died and nearly all 3.4 million people on the island were left without power and most without water.

The hurricane devastated agriculture, a small bright spot of economic growth in a U.S. territory mired in a decade-long recession and crushing debt.

While most of the island’s food is imported, statistics from the governor as of late 2016 show about 7,000 people working in agriculture, farm income growing and acres under cultivation up 50 percent over the past four years.

Without electricity, Lopez spent days after the storm focusing on finding enough diesel fuel to keep generators running so the cows could be milked and the milk could be kept cool. Failure to milk the cows could lead to an infection that could kill them and the milk can spoil within days without refrigeration.

Lopez said he has managed to get back into operation.

“A lot of people will never be able to get back to business,” he said. “The ones that will be able to get back into business will never be as they were.”

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