Puerto Rico tries to recover crops lost by hurricane

YABUCOA, Puerto Rico (HPD) — A month after Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico, the storm caused $159 million in damage to the island’s agricultural sector, destroying plantations of plantains, bananas and other crops, the Tuesday the Secretary of Agriculture of the US territory.

The US territory’s fragile agricultural sector is just beginning to recover from the passage of the Category 1 storm that hit the southwestern region on September 18, unleashing what officials described as “historic” flooding and dozens of mudslides. It also destroyed more than 90% of the crops in Puerto Rico.

“Many of us underestimate the phenomenon,” said Manuel Cidre, secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce. “It was much more damaging to southern agriculture than many people thought.”

Heavy rains drowned hundreds of acres of crops and strong winds toppled young banana and plantain trees, which bend easily in steady winds of 20 mph or more, considering the weight of the fruit they produce, said agronomist Peter Vivoni, president of the Puerto Rican Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Vegetable and coffee crops were also severely affected, said Agriculture Secretary Ramón González.

On a recent morning in the southeastern town of Yabucoa, farmer Anastacio Silva Gómez surveyed the damage caused by Fiona and recalled how the storm turned land he had fertilized a week earlier into a river. He lost 20,000 young banana trees and stressed that he sells a bunch for $10. He also lost tractors, fertilizers, pesticides, and other materials.

“It was too much rain,” Silva said. “The rain wreaked havoc”

Silva and others like him had prepared the land to expand their crops but will no longer be able to do so due to heavy financial losses, which worry many farmers.

“How is agriculture going to get back on its feet if there are no seeds?” Vivoni asked, adding that authorities should implement a seed inventory in Puerto Rico.

Similar damage was reported in the neighboring town of Maunabo, on the southern coast of the island, where some 120 small farmers live who produce plantains, bananas, melons and peppers.

Luis Monte Benjamin had a bumper crop of five acres (2 hectares) before Fiona Pass.

“Do you know what it’s like to see it on the floor after spending a year working on it?” she asked. “The melons are what made me sad. Some melons!”

For now, he said he plans to make up for some of his losses by planting some passion fruit, which he said is cheaper to grow.

The storm was the most recent challenge for Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector, which has had difficulty finding workers to harvest crops and authorities have been forced in recent years to bring in labor from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. .

A few days after Fiona’s passage, the Secretary of Agriculture announced a two million dollar assistance plan for farmers, thousands of whom have applied for help. Groups of specialists have been inspecting the farms in recent weeks and González announced on Tuesday that payments to banana and plantain producers will be made this week.

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