The 2020-2021 cycle build on the last cycle (2001) available at the Puerto Rico Agricultural Extension Service (PRAES). The previous plan, focused on sustainable agriculture, had nine members in its committee. The plan was directed at farmers and farm workers of Puerto Rico; agriculture professionals; all the agricultural sector, students, consumers and society, and the environment.
When the 2001 plan was developed, Puerto Rico had not suffered recent significant natural disasters. In 2017, Puerto Rico was impacted by hurricanes Irma and María, which put on the spotlight the dire need for
sustainable agriculture in Puerto Rico. The Island imports most of its food, ports were shut down, and there was a real threat of food shortage. Sustainable agriculture gained traction and the need for it is relevant to date.
More recently, regarding natural disasters, Puerto Rico suffered an earthquake in January whose epicenter was at the South of the Island. Aftershocks continue into late February. Landslides, threats of tsunamis, damages to irrigation systems, and damage to structures (businesses and farmer’s homes) are among the concerns that arose in light of these recent events.
The proposed scope of work will build upon the previous Sustainable Agriculture State Strategic Plan and pay close attention towards addressing the topic of resiliency through Sustainable Agriculture upon facing Natural Disasters.
Project objectives from proposal:
Objectives that were present in the 2001 (latest SARE Plan) include:
1. Increase knowledge of feasible sustainable agricultural practices to be implemented in PR
2. Disseminate and exchange available information about sustainable agriculture and make it accessible to farmers, agricultural professionals, researchers, extensionists, professors, students and the public in general.
3. Support a broad-based systematic training program on sustainable agricultural practices which would include segments of interest and benefit to farmers, agricultural professionals, researchers, extensionists, professors, students, and society.
4. Provide a training program (under the Train-the-Trainer model) on how to communicate information to professors, government officials, farmers, and society about the importance of the conservation of land with high agricultural use or potential and the consumption of locally produced food. Carry out multidisciplinary, cooperative, and participatory research and/or Extension projects on sustainable agriculture.
5. Develop and validate the economic viability of production and marketing strategies which are environmentally and/or socially equitable.
6. Develop marketing strategies for local and overseas markets.
The status of these objectives is still underway. The State Strategic Plan of 2001 is a working document that will be updated with the requested funding. Below is a brief summary with examples of initiatives that have
furthered these objectives. To achieve the educational mission four programmatic areas, play a key role: Agriculture, Marketing and Natural Resources, Family and Consumer Sciences, Youth and 4-H Clubs, and Development of Community Resources.
PRAES has professionals that offer educational services throughout the five regions of Puerto Rico and impact a diverse population, including farmers, family and consumer sciences professionals, and food safety experts.
After the natural disasters of September 2017, the Extension Faculty, through their regular visits to communities where they provide service, evidenced that many of the problems confronted by their target population were
simple to address.
Objective status – Information concerning sustainable agriculture and practices available from literature and from knowledge developed through the experience and traditions of farmers and agricultural professionals in universities, industries, and government has been made available through PRAES website. Funding from federal agencies – USDA –has played a significant role, for services, training research, among other. Accessibility to funding (federal funds) aiming towards sustainability of the target population is currently addressed through a USDA grant.
The private sector has helped address this through different initiatives such as a project funded by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy where services such as non-formal education; field training; field trips; workshops; outreach efforts; and sample projects to serve as example throughout the island are currently underway. A total of eleven acres of land will be used to promote mitigation and biodiversity.
Feasible resources such as YouTube, Social Media, and regular websites are among the tools incorporated throughout the years to impact the target audience, including farmers and fellow faculty members and Extension Faculty.
Regarding additions to the existing objectives or new ones, the following will be contemplated through the development of the proposed State Strategic Plan, which will be an update and working document.
Additional / New Objectives: The additional or new objectives that are currently considered for future include increasing partnerships with allies that will help disseminate among the general population or their target population the strategies that are developed with them under the new State Plan of Work. These allies will be from the local for-profit as well as non-profit sector. It would mainly fall under objectives as stated above. This will include networking events throughout the island in key, diverse, remote location, such that participants under this initiative learn first-hand of the opportunities and activities currently in place throughout PR. Among the new objectives are covering topics including organics training - a workshop on the processes of transition from conventional to sustainable agriculture, including organic agriculture as an alternative, with the intention of including a local certification including Agricultural Agents, and leading farmers.
Another objective that will be contemplated is the collaboration with other programs of the University system related to the Agricultural Industry – for example, the Hospitality School of University of Puerto Rico Carolina and the Sea Grant Program of University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez.