Puerto Rico’s farmers are standing at a crossroad. Between the devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria, supply chain issues and rising food cost due to inflation, the island’s agricultural sector has been stripped to its roots. However, a small group of Puerto Ricans are touting a solution: regenerative farming.

In a world where the population is booming, the climate is changing, and wilderness areas are diminishing, the pressure for high-yield agricultural production is on the rise. Intensification is occurring on a global scale, Puerto Rico being no exception. However, there has been very little attention given to improving the crop varieties grown in Puerto Rico. Claims have been made Puerto Rican produce lacks resilience to rising temperatures, threats of hurricanes and disease, meaning that a single bad year could have a serious impact on the local agricultural economy.

“Part of what’s needed now is a more holistic policy platform—one that pushes for transformational changes to our food and fiber system alongside the grassroots organizations, community leaders, artists, and revolutionary farmers we are learning from,” says Claire O’Connor, director of water and agriculture at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

As a philosophy and approach to land management, regenerative agriculture asks us to think about how all aspects of agriculture are connected through a web—a network of entities who grow, enhance, exchange, distribute, and consume goods and services—instead of a linear supply chain. It’s about farming and ranching in a style that nourishes people and the earth, with specific practices varying from grower to grower and from region to region.

“When we speak with farmers and ranchers focused on regenerative agriculture, they tell us that their notion of ‘success’ goes beyond yield and farm size,” says Lara Bryant, deputy director of water and agriculture at NRDC.

Bryant explained “it includes things like joy and happiness, the number of families they feed, watching how the land regenerates and flourishes, the money saved from not purchasing chemical inputs, the debt avoided by repurposing old equipment, and the relationships built with community members.”

It is important to appreciate that this is not a new idea and not all who practice these principles use the label regenerative farming. In fact, indigenous communities have farmed in nature’s image for millennia.

The regenerative agriculture movement is the dawning realization among more people that an Indigenous approach to agriculture can help restore ecologies, fight climate change, rebuild relationships, spark economic development, and bring joy,” says Arohi Sharma, water and agriculture policy analyst at NRDC.

Scant availability of information regarding best management practices has resulted in the increased dependence on agrochemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) in Puerto Rico. Poor management can lead to the soil becoming depleted of essential nutrients for crop growth, leading to a further increased need for fertilizer application. Agrochemical production costs both financially and environmentally have become an unsustainable option for the future of farming systems.

As hurricanes, flash floods, and other extreme weather patterns become more frequent, farmers and ranchers are awakening to the idea they must prepare their land to be more resilient. Healthy soils with high amounts of organic matter are able to absorb more water during a flood—to the benefit of the farmer and downstream communities—and even help maintain water security.

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