Caribbean Hub research on hurricane preparedness covered by local newspaper

Our research reveals farmers and agricultural advisors need more information on how to prepare for a cyclone.

November 28, 2021, Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. — The Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día covered our research on hurricane preparedness (Spanish article on El Nueva Día website). Below is the English translation of the article.

Agricultural needs four years after Hurricane Maria’s passage exposed

By: Gerardo E. Alvarado León

Published on Sunday, November 28, 2021 (pp 8)

A little more than four years after Hurricane Maria, farmers and agricultural advisors need more, and improved, information on how to prepare for a cyclone, training and a breakdown of available assistance to overcome the impacts, revealed research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Caribbean Climate Hub.

The study also found that farmers and agricultural advisors in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are still carrying the emotional distress from the devastation caused by Maria, requiring tools to improve their mental health.

Faced with this scenario, staff from the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub intend to visit the federal and state agencies concerned and present them with the results of the research. In addition to the dissemination, the idea is to show them what worked and what can be improved in preparing for and responding to new emergencies, said research associate Dr. Nora Álvarez Berríos.

“They were very specific when we asked them what they needed: training, educational materials and information on available assistance,” said Alvarez Berrios, who is the lead author of the study entitled Hurricane effects, mitigation, and preparedness in the Caribbean: Perspectives on high importance-low prevalence practices from agricultural advisors”.

In the case of agricultural advisors, they expressed a lot of frustration about not having the tools to deal with the emotional distress of their clients, the farmers. After the hurricane, the agricultural advisors would arrive at the farms and find the farmers devastated because they lost everything, and they too had lost so much. This finding was very revealing,” he added.

As part of the research, which consisted of surveying 200 agricultural advisors (officials in direct contact with farmers), an evaluation was made of what is important for hurricane preparedness and recovery and what was observed on the farms. According to Álvarez Berríos, it was found that farmers “prepare little”.

A cuatro años de María exponen las necesidades agrícoles

PDF of the original newspaper article in El Nuevo Día (Spanish)

“They had a little bit of strategy to deal with the problem in the short term, but nothing in the long term. Of the strategies we presented to them, such as planning, erosion practices or having a seed bank, none were reported as prevalent in the field. Very few farmers are preparing for the long term,” she said.

On the agency side, the study found that better communication with farmers is needed, as well as more information about the programs they offer. Also, a coordinated database is needed to optimize communication among the agencies themselves.

Regarding post-Maria recovery, 83% of the agricultural advisors surveyed felt that the biggest challenge farmers faced was farm management. This included lack of supplies, cleaning equipment and machinery, as well as infrastructural problems.

Electricity and fuel shortages were another challenge for farmers.

“For the farm advisors, the biggest challenge in the recovery was reaching the farmers. They had transportation problems, such as lack of 4×4 vehicles and fuel shortages. Also, they had challenges related to the same agencies they work for, such as lack of coordination, planning or leadership; and lack of educational material or information on the programs they offer for recovery,” said Alvarez Berríos, who also identified communication problems.

The research did not consider whether the challenges or problems identified have been dragging on for years. Álvarez Berríos noted, however, that agricultural advisors perceived that less than 50% of farmers have developed a hurricane preparedness and recovery plan. Likewise, the agricultural advisors themselves admitted to not knowing about their agencies’ plans.

“From this, we can deduce that if there is no preparedness and recovery plan, it is a pre-existing problem that came to light with the hurricane. For example, not having satellite phones or not having seeds are things that come from before,” she said.

Photo: Demonstration of contour planting for water and soil conservation at the workshop on soil conservation and management, climate adaptation in agriculture and forestry series (APDATA). Workshop hosted by USDA Caribbean Climate Hub. Workshop resource: Ian Pagán-Roig, Agroecological Project el Josco Bravo,. Photo credit: USDA Caribbean Climate Hub, 2017. 

Photo: Workshop on the chainsaw safety and use before and after a hurricane. Hosted by the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub, UPR Experimental Station of Corozal and the U.S. Forest Service. Photo credit: USDA Caribbean Climate Hub.

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