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.
International Women's Day is celebrated each year around the world on March 8. That inaugural date is linked to a women's anti-war protest in Russia known as "Bread and Peace" in the early 1900's. It was quickly replicated around Europe in the following year as women took to the streets, embracing the indisputable connection between hunger and war, expressing solidarity with women's peace movements around the world and advocating for their countries' governments to end armed conflict.
Early on rallies and protests by women were firmly established as a mechanism for building international solidarity around a feminist agenda. And the echoes of that mechanism are still reverberating today, as millions of people around the world took to the streets in January of this year (notably the largest protest in U.S. history) to remind world leaders, especially the newly elected U.S. president, that women's rights are still human rights.
Magha Garcia is an eco-farmer and environmental activist. She is a member of the Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica, USA.
Today, International Women's Day is recognized and celebrated in nearly every country—from villages to cities, from the Global South to the Global North—and has taken on a variety of hues and is realized in a variety of ways—protests, song and dance, conferences, shared meals and conversation and volunteer work.
This March 8, in honor of International Women's Day, women organizers from around the world are amplifying their voices in resistance to the structural forms of violence against the Earth, all forms of life and especially women, as a result of the unmitigated growth of industrial agriculture and international agribusiness.
Industrial agriculture is the dominant form of food production in the U.S and, increasingly, around the world. The impacts of industrial agriculture on our health and our living environment are well-documented: pesticide toxicity, water pollution, processed food, antibiotic resistance, worker injustice.
Women, who are arguably the most responsible for food moving from field to table, have the most at stake. Women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of food production in the Global South. And the share of U.S. farms operated by women has tripled in the past three decades. Official reports tell us that there are nearly 1 million women farmers in the U.S.—a vast underreporting when small-scale, subsistence and urban farms are added to that pool. We also know that women represent more than 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in the Global South and that 50 percent of food chain workers in the U.S. are women. And, according to the United Nations, women and girls around the world disproportionately suffer from hunger and food insecurity. Conservative estimates indicate that 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women and girls.
The statistics are important in understanding the vast impacts of industrial agriculture on women and their families, as well as the role women play in resisting those impacts. But it's the stories that women tell—their words and images—that bring to life the ways in which industrial agriculture and international agribusiness are structural forms of violence against the Earth, all peoples and especially women. It's not only the contamination of their bodies by agrochemicals—it's also the forced displacement, the division of families and the loss of loved ones that results from migration and land conflicts. It is the denial of the right to food—food that is accessible, both economically and physically, adequate in nutrition, affordable and sustainable in both production and consumption. It is the denial of the right to healthy soil and clean water for food production. It is the denial of the right to sustain one's family with dignity.
It is imperative; therefore, that women's voices are at the center of the debate about how to dismantle the current food regime and replace it with food sovereignty and agroecology. Though not yet mainstream concepts or practices, the work of grassroots organizations is beginning to result in a scaling out of agroecology in both rural and urban areas. And the leadership of women has played a significant role in making that possible.
In honor of International Women's Day, WhyHunger launched a new publication, Through Her Eyes: The Struggle for Food Sovereignty, which offers excerpts of interviews and dialogue with women organizers and food producers from the U.S. and globally in response to the question, "What are the impacts of industrial food and farming on women and how are women organizing to build an alternative?" This publication amplifies the voices of women who are on the frontlines in the ongoing struggle for land, water, localized economies and a world free of violence and hunger. It emerges in a moment when arguably a new world order is beginning to take shape.
In the face of economic and social systems in crisis and deepening inequality the world over, the struggle for food sovereignty, agroecology and climate justice is a struggle for more than just the right to food. It is a struggle for a new world order that centers the rights of women to live freely and safely and to lead in envisioning and crafting a world void of hunger and violence. This International Women's Day, join WhyHunger by standing in solidarity with women whose lived experiences are forging the path to food sovereignty.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Hunger and food insecurity affect more than 1 in 7 Americans. Those facing hunger are three times more likely to have diet-related health problems like diabetes or hypertension. Yet, far too often the solutions to help these individuals typically offered, funded and advocated for by our society address the issues of hunger and health as separate afflictions.
WhyHunger is a global grassroots support organization working with community leaders and grassroots organizations across the U.S. who are working at the intersections of health and hunger to address the complex and interconnected social determinants that leave far too many Americans hungry and sick.
We're excited to share this video from WhyHunger highlighting the innovative programs at Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger in Far Rockaway, New York, where VeggieRX programs, community farm stands, mobile pantries serving farm fresh produce and youth leadership programs intersect.
Sam Josephs, a youth leader in the Green Teens Program, serves as a mentor to her peers on the urban farm. She said, "Here in Rockaway, you don't have access to the things that you need … When you have a farm, you're producing your own food, you're watching out for your own health." Sam's testimony speaks to the value of programs like this and the importance of local, community-controlled food systems in fighting diet related illnesses.
Watch this inspiring video to learn more about Sam and BSCAH's programs:
Thank you Sam and Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger for the work that you do and for sharing this story with us!