Puerto Rico's Revival Depends on Empowering Small-Scale Farmers
Reporting by Saulo Araujo
Houses without roofs and trees without leaves is all the eyes could see in the week following the devastation that Hurricane Maria wrought. The Category 5 storm with 150+ miles per hour winds was the strongest to hit the island in over a century, leaving the entire population without water and power. Weeks later 3 million people are still without electricity.
Up in the mountains, small-scale farmers lost their crops, and their ability to feed their families was abruptly leveled. La Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica (Boricuá) a grassroots organization of more than 100 families made up of small-scale farmers, farmworkers and organizers across Puerto Rico and the islands of Vieques & Culebra, continues working to communicate with their members in rural areas and to assess the damages. Boricua has made great progress in the last three decades to organize and support farmers, facilitate farmer-to-farmer trainings, and build solidarity nationally and globally. They are helping to fuel agroecology on the island, bringing locally grown, nutritious food to their communities and to market.
Eighty percent of the island's crop value has been lost as a result of the hurricane. And photos and reports—directly from WhyHunger's grassroots partners in Puerto Rico and according to other mainstream news outlets—show plantations stripped bare, greenhouses lying in pieces on the ground like a fallen house of cards, chicken coops scattered and banana trees uprooted. The implications for hunger and food insecurity might seem less dire when you consider that almost 85 percent of the food consumed in Puerto Rico is imported. Can't food just be shipped and flown in for disaster relief while the regular distribution infrastructure is rebuilt—namely, grocery stores and other food purveyors? But it is not that simple. Immediate and short-term aid is sorely needed, but the long view suggests that a system that relies on corporations and mega farms to feed the island, largely controlled by and benefiting the U.S. mainland, is a system that will leave people and the land destitute again and again as predictably more frequent and powerful storms will make landfall on the island in the years ahead.
Before and AfterLa Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica
In addition to amplifying the need for food, medical help and clean water in the coming months, we also must amplify the need to advocate for climate justice and an end to political and economic policies that continue to hold the people of Puerto Rico hostage. Rebuilding systems that have failed the majority of the Puerto Rican people and its biodiversity does nothing to cultivate the resiliency needed to confront the escalating damage of climate change. Only small-scale farmers practicing agroecology can effectively and responsively feed communities and cool the planet.
The farmers of Boricuá and their work to spread agroecology are critical to the development of a food system that nourishes both people and the planet. Agroecological food production contributes to and relies on biodiversity in the local ecology—a key element in mitigating climate change while strengthening the resiliency necessary to withstand natural disasters. Rebuilding the infrastructure for local food production is essential to Boricuá's on-going struggle for food sovereignty and their ability to build a sustainable food source into the future.
The social organization necessary to spread agroecology is a key part of the methodology. Boricuá has formed and used "brigades" or groups formed by farmers and community members over the last quarter of a century to spread the practice and philosophy of agroecology. This farmer-to-farmer solidarity practice is one of the main organizing tools the organization has used to mobilize dozens of farmers and volunteers to help each other within hours after the hurricane subsided. As the U.S. government drags their feet on humanitarian support, the brigades will play an especially critical role in rebuilding Puerto Rico's food system from the ground up. WhyHunger has been working with Boricuá to make sure farmers have seeds, tools and food needed for the months ahead. Boricuá and WhyHunger are also raising funds for transportation and other expenses that the brigades will need to move between communities, carrying supplies and sharing knowledge.
Supporting Puerto Rico's efforts to forge a future for food sovereignty means acknowledging and advocating for a reversal of the unjust and antiquated policies that have led to the debt crisis. For instance, the Jones Act, passed just after World War I, stipulates that shipping between U.S. ports be conducted with American-made ships staffed by American crews. This protectionist act was preventing foreign ships to deliver much needed humanitarian aid from foreign sources in the wake of Maria, before the Trump administration finally lifted the act for a ridiculously short period of 10 days. Repealing the Jones Act coupled with debt relief, which some economists estimate has prevented the growth of the Puerto Rican economy to the tune of some 17 billion dollars, is perhaps the island's best chance at achieving food sovereignty and some level of economic wholeness.
That is why grassroots alliances and their partners and allies have come together to demand debt relief for Puerto Rico and a repeal of the Jones Act, with an ongoing petition. As the executive director of UpRose, Brooklyn's oldest Latino organization founded by Puerto Rican activists in the Civil Rights era, Elizabeth Lampierre wrote on their blog: "In working closely with the Climate Justice Alliance and our partners, we have been in communication with grassroots leadership on the ground in Puerto Rico. At this critical time, the way that we support the Puerto Rican people must be shaped by the needs articulated by this local leadership. This means following their lead and supporting their platform, including putting the island on the path toward regenerative energy, economic democracy, food sovereignty, control over land use, and community autonomy."
We know that natural disasters like Hurricane Maria are becoming more frequent as climate change proceeds unabated. And that's why we need to support and amplify post-disaster rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico and around the world that look to transform structures, practices and policies that promotes ecological biodiversity, environmental resilience and political sovereignty.
Join us and the Climate Justice Alliance in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico and demand Congress pass an immediate substantial federal Just Recovery and Relief Aid Package.
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A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.
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By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull
Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.
Start With Prevention<p>Just as preventive steps like maintaining a balanced diet help keep humans healthy, home growers can take many actions to help their gardens thrive.</p><p>One key step is assessing soil fertility – the ability of soil to sustain plant growth – which can vary widely depending on your location and soil type. Low soil fertility limits food production and predisposes plants to disease and pests. University extension <a href="https://soiltesting.wvu.edu/" target="_blank">soil testing labs</a> can help evaluate the quality of garden soil and identify nutrient deficiencies and acidic soils, often at no charge.</p>
Using weed barrier landscape cloth for planting rows and mulching between rows is an effective way to suppress weeds. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
Diagnosing Problems<p>Common plant pathogens include <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/viral/introduction/Pages/PlantViruses.aspx" target="_blank">viruses</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/prokaryote/intro/Pages/Bacteria.aspx" target="_blank">bacteria</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/nematode/intro/Pages/IntroNematodes.aspx" target="_blank">nematodes</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/oomycete/introduction/Pages/IntroOomycetes.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20oomycetes%2C%20also%20known%20as,foliar%20blights%20and%20downy%20mildews." target="_blank">oomycetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/fungalasco/intro/Pages/IntroFungi.aspx" target="_blank">fungi</a>. All of these microorganisms, especially at an early stage of infection, are too small to see. But when they proliferate, they cause changes in plants that we can recognize.</p><p>Unlike insects, which move around on six legs or on wings through the air, pathogens can move unseen and unchecked from leaf to leaf on the wind, through the soil or in droplets of water. Some microbes have even formed intimate relationships with insects and use them as vehicles to move from plant to plant, which makes these pathogens even more challenging to manage. Unfortunately, by the time some pathogens make their presence known, the damage is already done.</p><p>We recently conducted a <a href="https://twitter.com/kasson_wvu/status/1265989041725624323" target="_blank">Twitter poll</a> of gardeners nationwide to find out which culprits plagued their gardens. People named <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/aphids" target="_blank">aphids</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-vine-borer" target="_blank">squash vine borers</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-bug" target="_blank">squash bugs</a> and <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/flea-beetle" target="_blank">flea beetles</a> as the most problematic insect pests. Their most troublesome pathogens included <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/powdery-mildew" target="_blank">powdery mildew</a>, <a href="https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/rsol/Trainingmodules/BWTomato_Module.html" target="_blank">tomato bacterial wilt</a> and <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/downy-mildew" target="_blank">cucurbit downy mildew</a>.</p><p>To manage such perennial challenges, the first step is to spend time closely looking at your plants. Do you notice any insects consistently hanging around, or molds colonizing leaves or other plant parts? How about symptoms such as blight, stunting, or leaves that are yellowing, browning or wilting?</p>
This white fungal growth is an early sign of powdery mildew on a leaf of susceptible summer squash. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
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By Emma Charlton
The effects of climate change may more far-reaching than you think.
Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income, according to a new study published on ScienceDirect by researchers from Italy's Ca' Foscari University.
Value of air conditioning imports in selected OECD countries. ScienceDirect
The ‘Golden Thread’<p>The <a href="https://www.endenergypoverty.org/reports" target="_blank">Global Commission to End Energy Poverty</a> calls access to energy the "golden thread" that weaves together economic growth, human development, and environmental sustainability. And one of the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/archive/sdg-07-affordable-and-clean-energy" target="_blank">United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals</a> is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.</p><p>Sustainability also has a large role to play in the future of energy and failing to embed green policies in COVID-19 stimulus packages and underinvesting in green infrastructure are current risks, according to the <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_COVID_19_Risks_Outlook_Special_Edition_Pages.pdf" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</p><p>In its vision for a 'Great Reset' – building a better world after the pandemic – the Forum and the IMF jointly backed the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/end-fossil-fuel-subsidies-economy-imf-georgieva-great-reset-climate/" target="_blank">transition to a green economy</a> and called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies.</p>
As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.
Scientists are urging the WHO to revisit their coronavirus guidance to focus more on airborne transmission and less on hand sanitizer and hygiene. John Lund / Photodisc / Getty Images
The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding the line on its stance that the respiratory droplets of the coronavirus fall quickly to the floor and are not infectious. Now, a group of 239 scientists is challenging that assertion, arguing that the virus is lingering in the air of indoor environments, infecting people nearby, as The New York Times reported.
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Scores of people remained stranded in southern Japan on Sunday after heavy rain the day before caused deep flooding and mudslides that left at least 34 people confirmed or presumed dead.
Care Home Inundated<p>Altogether 16 residents at an elderly care home in Kuma Village are presumed dead after the facility was flooded by water and mud.</p><p>Fifty-one other residents have been rescued by boats and taken to hospitals for treatment, officials said.</p><p>Eighteen other people elsewhere have been confirmed dead, while more than a dozen others were still missing as of Sunday afternoon.</p><p>The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said many others were still waiting to be rescued from other inundated areas.</p><p>Hitoyoshi City was also badly affected by flooding, as rains in the prefecture exceeded 100 millimeters (4 inches) per hour at their height.</p>
More Rain Forecast<p>The disaster in the Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu island is the worst natural catastrophe since Typhoon Hagibis in October last year, which cost the lives of 90 people.</p><p>Although residents in Kumamoto prefecture were advised to evacuate their homes following the downpours on Friday evening into Saturday, many people chose not to leave for fear of contracting the coronavirus.</p><p>Officials say, however, that measures are in place at shelters to prevent the transmission of the disease.</p><p>More rain is predicted in the region, and the Japan Meteorological Agency has warned of the danger of further mudslides.</p>
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