Narrating agricultural resilience after Hurricane María: how smallholder farmers in Puerto Rico leverage self-sufficiency and collaborative agency in a climate-vulnerable food system

Agriculture and Human Values 39 (2):555-571 (2022)
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Abstract

Climate change is a threat to food system stability, with small islands particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. In Puerto Rico, a diminished agricultural sector and resulting food import dependence have been implicated in reduced diet quality, rural impoverishment, and periodic food insecurity during natural disasters. In contrast, smallholder farmers in Puerto Rico serve as cultural emblems of self-sufficient food production, providing fresh foods to local communities in an informal economy and leveraging traditional knowledge systems to manage varying ecological and climatic constraints. The current mixed methods study sought to document this expertise and employed a questionnaire and narrative interviewing in a purposeful sample of 30 smallholder farmers after Hurricane María to identify experiences in post-disaster food access and agricultural recovery and reveal underlying socioecological knowledge that may contribute to a more climate resilient food system in Puerto Rico. Although the hurricane resulted in significant damages, farmers contributed to post-disaster food access by sharing a variety of surviving fruits, vegetables, and root crops among community members. Practices such as crop diversification, seed banking, and soil conservation were identified as climate resilient farm management strategies, and smallholder farmer networks were discussed as a promising solution to amass resources and bolster agricultural productivity. These recommendations were shared in a narrative highlighting socioecological identity, self-sufficiency, community and cultural heritage, and collaborative agency as integral to agricultural resilience. Efforts to promote climate resilience in Puerto Rico must leverage smallholder farmers’ socioecological expertise to reclaim a more equitable, sustainable, and community-owned food system.

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