Today, I decided to look into the debate over the Lajas valley. To give some background on this one agricultural problem, of Puerto Rico’s many, we need to look at its history, its present, and what may end up happening one day. For most of Puerto Rico’s history, the Lajas Valley was a sort of seasonal wetland that could not be used for agriculture. It pretty much just sat and took up space. In the late 1950’s the Puerto Rican government drained the swamp and made the area available for agricultural use. There have been some salty shenanigans along the way.
Unfortunately, because this land in Lajas was submerged in water during the seasonal rains, it would flood so much that it would connect with the ocean, leading to soil and water tables with high concentrations of salt. This is incidentally bad for most forms of agriculture in that it induces wilting and poor growth of pants resulting in poor yields. The farmers tried to alleviate the problem by drawing water from wells in the area, but because the wetland had been connecting the land to the sea there for a long time, the water tables contain high levels of salt as well. This only hurt the farm land more. This cycle of self-deprecation has led to two main possible solutions. One, to return the Lajas valley to its origins as a seasonal wetland, and use it to generate revenue via tourism. The other, to use rice patties to flush the salty soil so that in a few years the Lajas valley could be used for any type of agriculture.
The first option to use tourism is technically viable, but I personally would not recommend it because tourism is such a fickle business. Not to mention that the Lajas valley is quite a distance from any other area that already has tourists. This means that if people wanted to see the wetlands they would need to make a special trip, and find a place to stay. Currently, there is just not the infrastructure in the area for that to be possible. It is admirable to hope that people would want to see the wetlands, but they are, as previously stated, a seasonal oddity. This means that even if the tourist base is there to see the area, the wetlands would not be present for viewing for large portions of the year.
I personally would go for the agricultural route involving rice. This route would not only produce food that does not need to be imported, but also heal the soil. In my opinion, this is a win-win situation with almost guaranteed benefits for all parties involved. Of course, some people are skeptical of taking the agricultural route because it has not lived up to expectations in the past fifty or so years. The rice however, has not been attempted thus far, and it seems to be living up to its predicted results. In the near future, the fields could be viable for more diverse and productive crops. The Lajas valley must only go through this mildly productive period to attain its full potential as a fertile area free of its salty nemesis.
Obviously, I favor the current use of the land that has an assured outcome with small profits over regressing in hopes that tourism will spike and enrich the economy when the “solution” is seasonal. Not to mention that this would mean that if flooding the valley does not work it would effectively ensure that that land could not be used again unless someone wants to invest heavily to drain it again. I just personally see small progress as a better option than the risk of losing the ability to use the land entirely.