Agriculture and forestry practices in the U.S. Caribbean have had 500 years of North American, European, and African influence, as well as the legacy of indigenous cultures and farming practices. There is also a century of high caliber research in agriculture and forestry at local universities, Federal research agencies, and affiliated partners. In the last century, Puerto Rico and the Island economies have shifted from agricultural self-sufficiency to economies that rely heavily on imported lumber and food products. However, the climate, soils, and available land and water are very conducive to high productivity and there is widespread interest in working to reinvigorate the contribution of forestry and agriculture to the economy, job creation, and improving the quality of life. Current important crops in the U.S. Caribbean include coffee; grass and pastureland for dairy cattle and other livestock; fruits, vegetables and root crops; and ornamental products. Forestry and agricultural products are obtained from a wide range of plant species and cultivars that are produced in a diverse array of ecosystems, and they exhibit significant variations in pest resistance and heat and water stress tolerance.
According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate is expected to warm and dry over the next century, with increasingly intense storm events. This may lead to both increased drought and increased susceptibility to flooding. The region’s wide array of crops will exhibit a range of responses to these changes and a detailed understanding is needed of both crops and climate to develop effective adaptation plans. As a whole, the forestry and agricultural sectors in the Caribbean are highly vulnerable to climate change effects for a number of reasons:
- Threats to food security;
- New vulnerabilities to pests that affect humans, livestock, wildlife and plants;
- Sea level rise and saltwater intrusion that affect coastal populations and prime agricultural lands;
- There is limited land available for growth and migration;
- The Caribbean is a global biodiversity hotspot;
- Unemployment and poverty levels are among the highest in the United States;
- A majority of farms lack access to specialized expertise, information, research, or equipment to adapt to climate change, and/or lack the ability to make needed adjustments to their production systems.
The Caribbean Climate Hub is working to reduce the risks climate change may bring to the agriculture and forestry sectors by serving as a framework to enhance the USDA response by: developing and delivering research and information that will increase local productivity; supporting innovative products and markets, providing regular vulnerability assessments; developing tools for farmers and managers to increase their adaptive capacity; and serving as a clearinghouse for information on climate, agriculture, and forestry in the Caribbean.