Hurricane preparedness and recovery: perspective of agricultural advisors in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands
The 2017 hurricane season had severe negative effects on agricultural production in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (USVI). The total cost of agricultural losses, including crops, ornamental plants, livestock and other animal products exceeded 2 billion dollars. Agricultural infrastructure was also significantly damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria, amounting to 1.8 billion dollars in losses. Certain characteristics of Caribbean islands make them especially vulnerable to hurricanes, such as their distance from emergency and recovery support, and dependence on imports and tourism. These characteristics increase the vulnerability of island societies in the region to extreme hurricanes, resulting in disruption to the local economy and food security. As such, it is imperative to evaluate the most effective measures that mitigate the effects of extreme hurricanes. It is also important to identify the challenges involved in the implementation of these mitigation practices. The identification of challenges can help lead to solutions that will increase the resiliency of island communities.
Note: This is an interactive factsheet and not a PDF.
Which USDA disaster assistance programs are available?
The USDA provides various services and programs for disaster-affected producers. The programs listed below are managed by different federal agencies. Each program has different requirements for eligibility. Contact the agency that manages the program that interests you to verify whether you are eligible for assistance. The contact information for your municipality is located in the following pages.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria have left thousands of fallen trees in our streets, yards, farms, and forests. One of the most important tasks after a hurricane is to clear the streets and remove downed trees. However, this also presents an opportunity to take advantage of the high economic value that can be recovered by salvaging the tropical wood of our downed trees.
What is “CLIMATE”? The term climate refers to the larger, long-term systems in which weather takes place. The climate of a place includes things like temperature, rainfall, and wind averaged over a long period of time, usually 30 years.
Climate Projections for Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands
Potential Climate Change Effects, Risk and Vulnerabilities
How does climate change affect agriculture and forestry in the Caribbean?
I’m a farmer or forest landowner, what can I do to build climate resilience?
Climate Change Effects on Livestock & Adaptation Strategies
Dairy farming is important in Puerto Rico and St. Croix, with more than 320 dairy farms in Puerto Rico on about 50,000 acres of land that generate over 25,000 jobs. In 2014-2015, the dry season in the US Caribbean was drier than usual and this sparked wildfires, pasture shortages, and land degradation, affecting livestock production.
Climate Projections for Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands
Climate Effects on Livestock and Dairy
Opportunities for the livestock industry in the US Caribbean
Drought Effects on Forests and Rangelands in the US-Caribbean
Issues of water quality and scarcity are of great concern across the U.S. Caribbean. In recent years Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have experienced uncommonly dry weather that has caused moderate to severe droughts. In 2014-2015, severe drought in Puerto Rico required the implementation of water restrictions that affected millions of people. The summer of 2015 was the third driest period in Puerto Rico since 1898, forcing the strictest water rationing in its history. Emerging climate models for the region (Figure 1) predict an overall decrease in precipitation over the next century, but also to greater variance in seasonality and an increase in intense precipitation events1. The temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall can have profound effects on the hydrology as well as the phenology and life-cycle of trees, rangeland species, pests and pollinators. Changing rainfall patterns will mean major adjustments in how working lands are managed by producers and planners.
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the agricultural sector, threatening food security and sustainable development. The Caribbean region is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to its geographical location and socio-economic condition. To deal with these climate challenges, we must strengthen ties of cooperation between government agencies, research institutions, community-based organizations, farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs.
USGS and Climate Hub Drought in the U.S. Caribbean Series
Impacts on Coastal Estuary Ecosystems
The topography of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is characterized by steep terrain and short distances to the sea. This means that freshwater runs off the islands quickly, coming into contact with seawater in coastal estuaries. The physical characteristics of estuaries change as the tides rise and fall, creating a wide range of habitats that support diverse plants and wildlife, including economically and culturally important native species such as cetí and land crabs, as well as game fishes such as snook and tarpon.
Agricultural production in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is important for the region’s economy, food security, and rural livelihoods. Farms in the region are mostly small-scale and cultivate a wide variety of crops including plantains, vegetables, coffee, hay, and ornamental plants. Small-scale farms of 10 acres or less are much more common in the U.S. Caribbean than in the continental U.S. While the variety of crops these farms provide is vital to the region, smaller financial margins can make them more vulnerable to climate-related hazards.
Healthy and functioning freshwater ecosystems are needed for successful conservation and management of native fish and invertebrate species, and the services they provide to communities across the U.S. Caribbean. Yet streams, rivers, and reservoirs are vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather, urbanization, energy development, and other environmental and human-caused disturbances.
The production of dairy and beef is important for food security and the economies of the U.S. Caribbean. The dairy industry is the leading agricultural sector in Puerto Rico, contributing about 22% of the total agricultural income. Region-wide, beef and dairy production generate over 25,000 jobs and occupy more than 50,000 acres. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, cattle production has been declining in recent years due to higher insurance costs and natural disasters, while sheep and goat production has increased.
Forests in the U.S. Caribbean are spectacularly diverse, with more than 500 native tree species in Puerto Rico alone. These forests and trees provide many services to the region’s 3.5 million people, including watershed and coastal protection, economic benefits from fruit and wood, cooling in urban environments, and improved water quality, recreation, habitat, and biodiversity protection. Caribbean forests range from coastal mangroves and dry forests, to rainy cloud forests on the mountain peaks. They have been shaped by frequent natural disturbances such as hurricanes, drought, flooding, landslides, and wildfire.
Agricultural Conservation Practices for Climate Risk Reduction
The effects of climate change have been observed on agricultural lands in the Caribbean. Climate change effects include shifts in temperature and precipitation, which can manifest as water scarcity or excess, above normal temperatures, sea level rise, as well as frequent tropical storms. However, the implementation of conservation practices on agricultural lands helps to significantly reduce the effects of climate change.
In order to describe the existing connection between the best conservation practices and the mitigation of climate change effects, the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub designed the following infographic.