Agriculture in Puerto Rico – A Brief Analysis

Agriculture in Puerto Rico, although not a major part of the nation’s GDP, still holds an important aspect of the island’s culture and history. A variety of crops are grown in Puerto Rico, including rice, sugar cane, coffee, and corn. However, there is currently a debate as to whether or not agricultural production on the island should be increased or reduced. Some believe that the island’s GDP would increase with a boost in agricultural production, but others think that Puerto Rico would fare better by investing in something else. As always in agriculture, there are both costs and benefits to producing crops, especially on such a small, isolated island with only a limited amount of arable land.

One of the main problems with agriculture in Puerto Rico is that the island nation is too small, and therefore unable to produce enough quantity of crops to compete with other, larger nations on an international scale. Another reason that Puerto Rico is unable to compete is because unlike the United States, where gigantic, corporate farms are the norm, many of Puerto Rico’s farms are smaller, family owned operations. In the lecture given at the Puerto Rican university, we were told that the majority of food crops have been historically been produced by farmers who own plots less than three cuerdas. This small size means that although the value of the goods produced is most likely quite high, the quantity is minimal, which puts Puerto Rico at a disadvantage in the international market.

Another, somewhat related problem with agriculture in Puerto Rico is that farming may take away land that could be better used for another purpose. Since land on the island is limited, every farm comes with a sacrifice. Tourism is one of the island’s major industries, and a strong argument could be made that Puerto Rico would receive more revenue by investing in tourism insead of agriculture. Currently, roughly a quarter of Puerto Rico’s land is divided into over 13,000 farms. Many of the farmlands are located in areas that could potentially become tourist attractions, with locations near beaches, rainforests, or other scenic areas. In addition, not all of Puerto Rico’s soil is best suited to grow many of the agricultural crops that farmers plant on their plots. In many areas on the island, there is very high soil salinity, which makes many plants struggle to prosper. In order to optimize yields, many farmers use heavy amounts of fertilizer, which can damage the soil and nearby watersheds. Because of these problems with the soil and farmlands, some people have suggested that Puerto Rico should focus less on farming, and instead turn to other methods of revenue such as tourism.

However, there are also many arguments that can be made in favor of increasing agricultural production in Puerto Rico. Currently, over eighty percent of food consumed in Puerto Rico comes from imports. The island is heavily dependent on imports to supply food to its population. This causes many potential problems. Import costs will drive the prices of food items up, and make many items much more expensive than they would be if they were locally grown. Also, by the time a lot of the imported food reaches the island, it is no longer fresh because of lengthy shipping times. Also, hurricanes are a common threat to Puerto Rico, which can make food deliveries difficult during hurricane season and drive the food prices on the island up even higher. By cutting back on imports and producing more crops on the island, Puerto Rico would be able to cut back on expensive import costs and enjoy fresher, higher quality food.

In addition, increasing the size of Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector would boost the economy and provide more jobs to the population. Although at this time, less than two percent of Puerto Rico’s workforce is employed in an agricultural job, increasing the number and the size of the island’s farmlands would create many more available jobs. This would boost the economy, which has been struggling for many years now, and boost the nation’s GDP. It would also decrease the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico, which could in turn create more revenue for businesses on the island as more people would have extra spending money.

In summary, there are many arguments that can be made both in favor of and against increasing agriculture in Puerto Rico. Some experts believe that since Puerto Rico is unable to compete on an international scale, the island would prosper more by investing in other areas that it excels in, such as tourism. Others say that promoting agriculture will provide fresher, less expensive food, more jobs, and an economic boost. No matter which side a person stands on, it is inarguable that farming has a historical significance in Puerto Rico that will never go away. Agriculture is part of the island’s culture, and will most likely remain so forever.  

Many of Puerto Rico’s farms have historical significance, including this sugar plantation that the class toured.