Rotary International: Local agriculture receives global support

Agriculture has been weak to non-existent in Puerto Rico for generations. This is due in part to the modernization and urbanization of the island that caused many, over decades, to take non-agricultural jobs in largely urban areas, thus ultimately ‘undermining’ the agro-industry across Puerto Rico.

After the impact of hurricanes Irma and María in 2017, organizations such as Para la Naturaleza are leading with environmentally sustainable solutions that will lessen the economic and environmental vulnerability of the island. With a standard of 85% of food being imported prior to the hurricanes, there is an evident need to build local food sources to help communities mitigate future emergencies while also providing education on the consequences and ramifications of a dependent imported infrastructure.

Para la Naturaleza had been building relationships with farmers to implement sustainable agriculture projects by providing low-cost land. The impact of the hurricanes nearly wiped out all farming activity and support to this sector was nonexistent.

Rotary International quickly stepped in with a Rotary International Global Grant in 2019 to establish an agroecology program within Para la Naturaleza. The grant was a launching pad to help produce immediate health and economic results as well as strengthen sustainable farming as a permanent industry in multiple areas across Puerto Rico.

Through this project we have identified over 500 farmers and small-scale producers and established a directory and farmer database, carried out 17 Community Kitchens in three PLN regions, worked with three community supported agriculture (CSA) initiatives to distribute locally grown food boxes (3,500 lbs.) to over 700 vulnerable families during the pandemic, provided 72 contact hours of educational capacity training through five train-the-trainer courses to over 530 participants, provided financial support to 47 farmers for equipment, materials, supplies, and farm operations, conducted three farmer’s markets in PLN’S Open Houses supporting the sales and marketing of 27 farmers, and distributed 4,100 trees, as well as 22,750 lbs. of high-quality compost to over 110 agroecological farms. 

As a result of the success of the first Global Grant, Rotary International and Para la Naturaleza are partnering up once again with a new Global Grant in 2021 to work with more farmers and launch additional agroecological projects.