Puerto Rico: Strong Support for Land and Agriculture

[All links lead to Spanish language pages, except when otherwise noted.]

Dozens of people gathered in front of La Fortaleza [the governor's mansion] in San Juan on July 11 to demonstrate in support of the lands of the Agricultural Research Station, which belongs to the College of Agricultural Science of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), as part of the Mayagüez campus. The demonstration, organized by the Coalition in Support of Research Stations and Agricultural Reserves (CODERA) and the Agricultural Rescue Front (FRA), was demanding that the governor, Luis Fortuño, veto the recently approved bill that orders the UPR to transfer, at no cost, around 50 acres of the Agricultural Research Station to the municipality of Gurabo, where it is located.

The lands that the UPR are ordered to transfer to the municipality of Gurabo are considered among the best agricultural lands of Puerto Rico. The first organic farm to be established in the country and certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is on the land, where much research is currently being done on the best methods of cultivation and prevention of plagues. In exchange for granting land to the municipality of Gurabo, unsuitable land located in floodplains would be transferred to the Agricultural Research Station. The mayor of Gurabo, Víctor M. Díaz, wants to use the lands of the research station for several infrastructure projects, among them a hospital, a public housing project, and a school.

The demonstration took place in Old San Juan in front of La Fortaleza, the executive mansion of Puerto Rico. Photo by Christopher Torres Lugo. Courtesy of UPR Students Reporting. Used with permission.

United behind the demands of CODERA were various civic organizations, such as the Sierra Club, the General Council of Students of the Río Piedras Campus, and the recently formed Worker's People Party.

Currently, very little of the food that is consumed in Puerto Rico is also produced in the country. More than 85% of the food is imported, which means that the island is in a position of almost total dependence for its food supply. Along with this, it must be added that between 2002 and 2005 Puerto Rico lost 20% of its already scarce agricultural lands. Some experts, like the agriculturist Ián Pagán Roig, have warned of the implications for the country:

Los precios de alimentos han alcanzado picos históricos en los últimos 2 años. Tan reciente como en abril, el Banco Mundial reportó un aumento de 8% de los precios de los alimentos. La crisis alimentaria mundial está causando hambre y estragos en el planeta. Tan solo en la región Sahel en África alrededor de 17 millones de personas están sufriendo de hambruna a causa de la crisis alimentaria desencadenada por los altos precios de los alimentos y el cambio climático, según informa el Banco Mundial. Este panorama pone en especial peligro a Puerto Rico de sufrir de los estragos de la crisis alimentaria si no actuamos y defendemos las tierras agrícolas que quedan y potenciamos la agricultura local. La posibilidad de sufrir hambre en Puerto Rico es real y más probable de lo que todos creemos cuando dependemos de más de un 85% de importaciones del extranjero para nuestro sustento alimentario. No estamos en posición de perder ni una cuerda más de terreno agrícola. Cada espacio protegido para la agricultura representa la seguridad de un plato de comida para nuestro pueblo y las futuras generaciones.

The price of food has reached historic peaks in the last 2 years. As recently as April, the World Bank reported an 8% increase in the price of food. The global food crisis is causing hunger and havoc on the planet. In the Sahara region of Africa alone around 17 million people are suffering from famine because of the food crisis triggered by the high prices of food and climate change, according to the World Bank. This outlook puts Puerto Rico in particular risk of suffering from the devastation of the food crisis if we don't work to defend the agricultural lands that remain and strengthen local agriculture. The possibility of experiencing famine in Puerto Rico is real and more probable than we all believe, when we depend on foreign imports for more than 85% of our food and sustenance. We aren't in a position to lose even an acre more of agricultural land. Each area protected for agriculture represents the security of a plate of food for our people and future generations.

In order to raise awareness about the importance of the lands of the Agricultural Research Station, the Facebook group UPR Students Reporting organized a trip last year to the research station. The magazine Diálogo Digital posted a video of the trip on YouTube:

CODERA and the FRA have started an intensive campaign to prevent the governor from signing into law the land exchange, urging citizens to express their disapproval of the exchange by calling La Fortaleza, sending messages to the Twitter account of the governor, and signing a petition on change.org.

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