Human Rights & Democracy
September 27, 2023: Food Sovereignty for Puerto Rico: Reclaiming our Land
Posted on January 11, 2024 at 12:00 AM
by Dr. Jane Nicholson, national member (WI/Chicago, Puerto Rican Cultural Center)
The lack of food sovereignty is a long-standing crisis for Puerto Ricans. Food production and consumption on the island are not autonomously determined, but rather are rooted in policies driving economic dependence on American capital due to its territorial status. Historically, few attempts have been made to sufficiently fund the reestablishment of agrarian practices in Puerto Rico to produce traditional, healthful foods for local consumption. Currently, Puerto Ricans depend on imports for over 85% of the food they consume. Yet, there is vast potential for reestablishing a healthy agricultural sector on the island’s arable lands.
Provisions to the 2023 Reauthorization of the Farm Bill must assure that Puerto Rican food sovereignty is included. There is an urgent need to redistribute federal monies—no additional funding is being requested. The Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP) should transition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because the former is a capped black grant that does not respond to urgent need, as in the case of Maria, nor does it fund food production on the island. This requested reallocation of funds provides an economic boost by reestablishing farms under Puerto Rican ownership.
Equally important, an increase in this farm funding must not lessen the SNAP provisions for food assistance to low-income households. Puerto Rican families are well below parity compared to families in States (increasingly since Maria). This boost in SNAP food purchasing power for families would best be used to purchase fresh, locally produced foods. Due to preservative-laden, imported foods, widely reported illnesses on the island are diet-related.
Support for this reallocated funding is supported by 13 mayors on the island, the University of Puerto Rico and the Community Land Trust of the island. Current advocacy work is expanding support throughout the Congress. We call on diverse levels of government to support the federal reassignment of NAP and increase of SNAP support to families in Puerto Rico. The diasporic population now exceeds the population on the island. Diasporic remittances are currently essential to the economy of the island as families assist island family members with money for healthcare, food and housing. The diaspora shares in the stress that marks a lack of both healthy food and work in the agricultural sector--affecting all sectors of social stability, from health and economy to the culture of food that touches family and tradition.