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Puerto Rican Farmer Households' Food Security After Hurricane Maria: Rethinking Metrics



Puerto Rico has experienced a decline in the number of farms since the 1990s which parallels trends in the broader Caribbean. The islands share characteristics that contribute to their frail food security, including limited land masses, small economies, isolation, and embeddedness in neocolonial dynamics. The aftermath of the 2017 category 4 Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico made evident that the local food system can be a secure source of food (and livelihood support) when importation is challenging. Understanding farmers’ adaptive capacity is one of the many important elements to safeguard local food systems, and to better comprehend social-ecological interactions in a disaster context. This study combined survey data from 405 farmers (87% response rate), collected by agricultural agents of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez’s Extension Service, with biophysical data of Hurricane Maria (precipitation, landslides, and wind), to examine farmer households’ food security through a social-ecological lens. Overall, 69% of households experienced at least one month where they struggled to acquire food or faced a shortage. More than one-third of farmers (38%) reported three months or more of persistent food insecurity, while 31% reported one- or two-months of temporary food insecurity. A multinomial logistic regression suggested that biophysical impacts, but especially social factors, such as constrained access to external sources of support, were linked with persistent food insecurity. There were also significant differences based on farm size, location, and proximity to Maria’s track. Results catalyze a needed conversation in food security metrics in island and disaster contexts.
Puerto Rican Farmer Households’ Food Security After Hurricane Maria: Rethinking Metrics
Luis Alexis Rodríguez-Cruz1-2, Nora Álvarez-Berríos1-2, and Meredith T. Niles3
1International Institute of Tropical Forestry, US Forest Service; 2USDA Caribbean Climate Hub; 3Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, University of Vermont
September 20, 2017
Islands are uniquely vulnerable to extreme
weather events and food insecurity and have
additional response challenges.
Farmers have a key role in producing domestic
food, which can safeguard food security when
food importation may be challenging.
Nevertheless, in the context of disaster, farmers
themselves may be vulnerable to food insecurity.
Survey data of 405 farmers (87% response
rate), coupled with biophysical data related to
the hurricane were examined under a social-
ecological lens.
Farmers were asked between May and June
2018 about the months in which their
households had difficulty acquiring food or
experienced shortages.
19% 25%
15% 22%
Percentages of reported household food insecurity by month
69% percent of farmers reported at least one
month of low food security in their households.
31% percent reported 1-2 months of low food
security (immediate food insecurity), 38%
reported 3 months or more of low food security
(persistent food insecurity), while 31% reported
no months of food insecurity.
The distribution of the proportion of responses
by category is shown here. There was no data
for municipalities in gray. Municipalities
grouped in a dark line reported greater
landslides. The dotted line shows Maria's
A multinomial regression model suggested that
biophysical impacts, but especially social factors, such as
age and restricted access to external sources of support,
were linked to reporting persistent food insecurity.
Those in the persistent category tended to reside in
municipalities with greater incidence of landslides and
that were close to the hurricane's track. The size of farms
of those experiencing persistent food insecurity tended to
be smaller than the farm size of people experiencing only
immediate or no food insecurity.
Results suggests that the biophysical impacts of the
hurricane interact with existing infrastructure and social
resources to affect farmer vulnerability and the food
environment in different ways.
Strengthening farmers' adaptive capacity could safeguard their livelihoods, and thus support local agricultural production and food security.
Understanding how people navigate disruptions in the built and natural environment is crucial for better understanding food security outcomes in the
context of disasters. Future studies should incorporate mixed-methods and integrate structural variables for a more nuanced understanding.
We acknowledge the 405 farmers who shared their
perspectives, and the several agricultural agents of the UPRM
Extension Service for enumerating the surveys. Thanks to the
mentioned institutions for funding this work. This work is
published, and fully available bilingually online
Proportion of respondents by municipality
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