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Department Of Agriculture To Recommend Coastal Acreage Protection, Identified Acreage To Serve As Guidelines For Planning Board


December 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The local Agriculture Department is recommending to the Puerto Rico Planning Board how much of the estimated 270,454 acres of private and publicly owned coastal land should be protected and preserved solely for agricultural use.

According to a "High Potential Area for Agriculture" study conducted by Jose Molinelli, director of environmental affairs at University of Puerto Rico, there are close to 270,454 acres (which includes 80,000 acres owned by Land Authority and 190,000 privately owned) identified for potential agricultural use. Of the government’s 80,000 acres, close to 70,000 is said to be usable for farming purposes and, of that figure, 64,000 acres are already being leased by the Land Authority.

The study doesn’t include the total amount of land in the central mountain region of Puerto Rico that has a large number of agricultural farms. Of that region, it only makes reference to 15,000 acres, which is a tiny portion of the farmland in the mountainous part of the island.

"I believe there is no better way to preserve agricultural land then by cultivating it," said Luis Rivero Cubano, secretary of the Department of Agriculture. "It’s the only way for us to avoid pressure by developers."

Just a couple of years ago, the Department of Agriculture had identified an estimated 270,000 acres of privately owned coastal land that could be used for farming. Today, that total has been reduced by 79,546 acres. Some of that land was authorized for either residential, commercial, or tourism projects.

"Obviously, there are some wetlands and land that has lost its agricultural value and can’t be used for farming," Rivero Cubano said. "In this case, the land could be sold at market value and the money raised could be used to purchase viable farmland in other areas."

Agricultural reserves now under government protection include land in the Valley of Coloso, covering Aguada, Aguadilla, and Moca; the Valley of Lajas, covering Guanica, Sabana Grande, and a minimal part of Yauco; and the Valley of Guanajibo, which covers Cabo Rojo, Hormigueros, and San German.

However, the Department of Agriculture also is seeking to protect several agricultural buffer zones or <I>franjas</I>, not necessarily to convert them into reserves, such as the Valley of Arecibo, the Valley of Rio Grande in Manati, and the Valley de la Plata in Toa Baja.

"We don’t support any type of development on these agricultural buffer zones," Rivero Cubano said.

According to the study, there are an estimated 89,227 acres of farmland along the north coast of the island, 31,941 acres on the west coast, 33,433 acres on the east, and 100,694 acres along the southern coast, 59,000 acres of which are located throughout the municipalities of Ponce to Patillas with excellent farming potential. As mentioned, the study also includes 15,000 acres in the central mountain region.

Of the estimated 100,000 plus acres in the southern region, 37,000 acres are located in the municipalities of Guanica, Lajas, and Cabo Rojo and another 4,000 acres are in Guayanilla, Yauco, and Peñuelas.

"It’s the first time the Planning Board has seriously considered our opinion when it comes to issuing permits," Rivero Cubano said. "This administration is aware that Puerto Rico is an island that measures only 100 miles by 35 miles and we must protect the small amount of land left for future generations. I am aware that developers argue that if land isn’t being used for farming it can be used for other purposes, but that isn’t necessarily correct. Just because land isn’t being used for farming doesn’t mean it’s not usable for agriculture."

The Department of Agriculture believes local residents haven’t been motivated to cultivate land, and that’s why the agency is trying to spur agricultural production on the island with new production centers.

"The important thing here is to have land available when people become motivated and the new agricultural businesses start taking off. It would be sad not to have land available for those who would like to develop an agricultural business," Rivero Cubano said.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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