Exploring Agritourism to Increase Agricultural Sustainability and Resilience in the Municipality of Utuado, Puerto Rico

Project Overview

LS20-339
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $300,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipients: Troy University; University of Puerto Rico; Arizona State University
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Katja Brundiers
Arizona State University
Dr. Pablo Méndez-Lázaro
University of Puerto Rico

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: agritourism
  • Sustainable Communities: quality of life

    Proposal abstract:

    On May 2017, the Government of Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy and the US government assigned PROMESA (Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board) the new mechanism in charge of making financial decisions in the island. In September 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico leaving catastrophic damage and high loss of life (Melin & Conte, 2018). One of the hardest hit areas was Utuado, a municipality in the Central Mountain area of Puerto Rico (Farinas, 2018). It took local authorities about 10 days to begin assisting the people of Utuado and it was 42 days before the first federal presence arrived to provide aid to the communities (Millman, 2017). Civil society organizations felt catalyzed into actions to advance social change. First among them was the Corporación de Servicios de Salud y Desarrollo Socio-económico del OTOAO (COSSAO), a registered non-profit, and community-based organization that pursued sustainable development in Utuado municipality since 2013. The experience of the Hurricane strengthened COSSAO’s determination to transform its seven member barrios in Utuado into self-reliant and sustainable communities. COSSAO built alliances with other civic organizations, academia, and private companies. Utilizing their own capital, the communities stabilized infrastructure, cleared debris, and constructed a community primary health center in four months with no external funds. 

    Additionally, local farmers decided to rehabilitate hurricane-destroyed and abandoned farms. Many farms, each about 15-20 acres, have been abandoned, especially as young people and families with children moved away to look for better conditions. The goal is to improve the quality of life, agricultural sustainability and resilience to extreme weather events. One approach is through the development of sustainable agriculture that acts as a tourism destination, i.e. agritourism. Agritourism diversifies revenue for producers of agricultural commodities by allowing tourists to visit agricultural operations, enjoy local specialties, and interact with host farmers. By combining sustainable agriculture practices with high-quality, experiential tourism experiences, new enterprises and opportunities for community socioeconomic development and nature conservation will be created. The farmers here explicitly stated that they have a deep interest in agritourism.

    The purpose of this research is to determine whether and how agritourism can improve the quality of life, socioeconomic development, agricultural sustainability and resilience in the municipality of Utuado, Puerto Rico. For beginning farms this could mean laying the groundwork for sustainable agricultural production and operations for agritourism. For established farms this could mean developing value-added products and services. Further, there will be strategies for agritourism development, creation of value-added products and services and most importantly, an emphasis on outreach activities and educational materials to share the insights gained from the research project with other farmers.

    This systems research design involves farmers, community members and scholars in the process of co-creation of knowledge and adopts a transformative sustainability research methodology (Wiek et al. 2012). The whole system approach (social, economic, ecological) will strengthen strategies to transform unsustainable social, ecological, and economic dynamics into resilient systems, able not only to recover from shocks but bounce forward towards sustainable development goals (Walker & Salt, 2012).   

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall objective of this collaborative research project is to determine whether and how agritourism can increase agricultural sustainability and resilience of the municipality of Utuado, Puerto Rico.

    1. To clarify how agritourism can contribute to agricultural sustainability and resilience
    2. To determine available farmer support for agritourism and how farmers can best access these resources
    3. To provide strategies for creating an agritourism destination
    4. To define the potential of agritourism to create value-added products and services
    5. To identify the ways in which these agritourism products and services can contribute to the sustainability of the community and vice-versa how existing community assets, such as the Primary School Educational Farm and the Health Clinic, can contribute farmers’ agritourism endeavors. 
    6. To conduct outreach activities and provide educational materials to share the insights gained from the research project with other farmers and collaborating community organizations in order to inform practical and evidence-supported action towards sustainability and resilience. To strive for creating co-benefits for the local community, specifically for vulnerable populations including children and the elderly, when researching approaches towards these primary objectives. 
    1. To strive for creating co-benefits for the local community, specifically for vulnerable populations including children and the elderly, when researching approaches towards these primary objectives.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.