The story of how Puerto Rico lost its food sovereignty is a familiar one, echoing a tragic pattern worldwide. We might call this pattern “the arc of colonialization.”
Food sovereignty is probably a pretty good indicator of economic sovereignty in general. A place that has to rely on imports for most of its food, probably also is having to import other basic stuff such as household goods.
In the old days, communities were able to get almost all their needs met locally. This was the only alternative, as people didn’t have access to cheap fossil fuels, which in turn enabled centralization, globalization, widespread use of large mechanized equipment, and so on.
The article and video linked below answer a huge question I had about Puerto Rico’s suffering after hurricane Maria. I wondered how did it get to be that the people weren’t growing their own food in that abundant land, and how it was that they didn’t have fresh water from cisterns and were dependent on bottled water. As I suspected: It was the legacy of colonialism, corporate profiteering. A deadly “hurricane” that hit many decades before Maria.
Many places (maybe even most places nowadays) have suffered a version of “economic colonialism.” We all face the task of rebuilding our local food sovereignty, and taking back our local economic sovereignty in general. This doesn’t necessarily mean having to give up imported goodies entirely; it just means not being forced to depend on imports. And, it means being responsible about our import purchases, so our “treats” are supporting the wellbeing of everyday people in the source country, rather than adding to human suffering and environmental degradation.
• How Puerto Rico Lost Its Food Sovereignty: The young Puerto Ricans returning to the land (YouTube video). Starts with a succinct summary of how this situation came about. Then follows with the good news about the grassroots regenerative ag movement that seems to be building momentum. Very inspiring; I loved seeing the young Mom and other young women building a career path they love.
• A Local Food Revolution in Puerto Rico (foodtank.com): This article also offers a “bad news followed by good news” story: “The story of Puerto Rico’s food production is also the story of the island’s own colonial history. Large-scale plantations replaced native farming during Puerto Rico’s days as a Spanish colony, resulting in the consolidation of agricultural land and landholding, as well as the number of crops being grown on it. When the United States took over the island in the wake of the Spanish-American War in 1898, economic restructuring meant that the remaining agricultural activity focused only on cash crops like sugarcane and coffee. Then, in the 1940s, Congress launched Operation Bootstrap, a campaign to overhaul the Puerto Rican economy that focused on manufacturing and tourism—moving even further away from agriculture. Subsequent tax breaks and economic initiatives to encourage investment in these sectors solidified these moves. Deliberately, over the course of years, an import-driven food system was put in place in Puerto Rico, and all other farming fell by the wayside.”