The Importance of Food Sovereignty
Fusion Farms is fighting for food sovereignty and food security in Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria, which made landfall on September 20th 2017, was the worst natural disaster in recorded history to affect Puerto Rico and was also the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Jeanne in 2004. Add to the tragedy a long history of government corruption, failing infrastructure, and lack of aid, even though Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and you’ve got an island on its knees, barely capable of feeding its own residents, all American citizens.
What is food sovereignty?
Food sovereignty is the right of communities to choose where and how their food is produced, as well as what food they consume. The food sovereignty movement seeks to guarantee these basic rights for communities around the world and Fusion Farms is creating that option for Puerto Rico with our hurricane-protected vertical aquaponic farms. Decades of inequitable farm and trade policy have devastated the fabric of family farm agriculture and rural communities in Puerto Rico. Now, we are fighting against corporate control of agriculture and the food dumping that happens in Puerto Rico and encouraging family farmers and fisherman to lead the way in changing the food system in Puerto Rico.
We are fighting for a passive state of care in which all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Puerto Rico imports upwards of 90% of its food
Puerto Rico is an island with plentiful, naturally occurring food sources, abundant fresh water, and a population of seasoned farmers ready and willing to work, and yet agriculture suffers here. Consequently, residents are forced to pay for imported food products, which are expensive and on the verge of expiry by the time they reach grocery store shelves. This is not to mention the toll the associated carbon footprint of importing has on the environment.
Relying almost entirely on food imports from the U.S. mainland and neighboring countries is a vulnerable position to be in for the Caribbean island nation, particularly at the present time when an unprecedented outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is threatening to bring global logistics and trade to a standstill.
Puerto Rico pays 151% more to transport goods from American ports than from foreign ports
Compounding the problem is an archaic shipping law, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which was intended to encourage American prosperity after World War I. Unfortunately, however, the law has had a profound and opposite effect on Puerto Rico. The Jones Act, as it is also known, states that all goods transported by water between ports in the United States and its territories (of which Puerto Rico is one), have to be carried on American-flagged, American-built, American-owned, and American crewed boats.
The unintended consequences of this act have done measurable harm to Puerto Rico’s economy, not only because of the steeper consumer prices incurred by the more expensive Jones Act vessels but also because there aren’t always ships available to transport the volume of goods Puerto Rico requires. A third point of considerable harm has been done to the environment because Puerto Rican businesses have been forced to turn to cheaper land freight, which travels from further afield to transport their goods.
According to a study by Advantage Business Consulting (ABC) titled The Impact of the Jones Act on Puerto Rico, transporting containers from the United States costs, on average, 2.5 times or 151 percent more than transporting from foreign ports. For example: shipping a container on Jones Act vessels from the U.S. East Coast to Puerto Rico costs $3,063 but shipping the same container (on non-Jones Act vessels) to nearby Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic costs only $1,504; and to Kingston, Jamaica, $1,607. This impact equivalent translates to a Jones Act tax of 7.2 percent on food and beverages alone and an additional annual cost of $367 million to Puerto Rico’s economy.
Food security now and for a food sovereign future
Puerto Rico’s foundering economy, infrastructure, power grid, and agriculture make it clear, now more than ever, after Hurricane Maria and the exploding COVID-19 pandemic, that the island needs to establish its food sovereignty. Fusion Farms is one such venture that seeks to empower the island to feed itself.
But the dream doesn’t end with the successful completion of our pilot vertical aquaponics facility in Mayagüez. It only begins! It is our aim to develop a repeatable, sustainable, and scalable model for a hurricane-protected Closed Environment Aquaponics farm: one that can be repeated across in multiple facilities across Puerto Rico. One day, it is our dream to cater to 100% of the food requirements of the island so that it is entirely food sovereign and food secure.
Come rain or shine, hurricane, earthquake, or virus pandemic, Puerto Rico should be able to grow its own food and feed its own people and we are placing ourselves at the forefront of this movement towards a food sovereign future.