This is no surprise. When a hurricane comes blowing through, it tends to do huge damage to to crops, even at Cat 1 or Cat 2. Cat 5 Maria has left Puerto Rico’s crops in ruins and entirely shut down a significant economic sector:
Hurricane Maria made landfall here Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. Its force and fury stripped every tree of not just the leaves, but also the bark, leaving a rich agricultural region looking like the result of a postapocalyptic drought. Rows and rows of fields were denuded. Plants simply blew away.
In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry, said Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Agriculture.
Across the island, Maria’s prolonged barrage took out entire plantations and destroyed dairy barns and industrial chicken coops. Plantain, banana and coffee crops were the hardest hit, Mr. Flores said. Landslides in the mountainous interior of the island took out many roads, a major part of the agriculture infrastructure there.
The island suffered a loss of $780 million in agriculture yields, according to the department’s preliminary figures. Hurricane Georges in 1998 wiped out about 65 percent of crops and Hurricane Irma, which only grazed the island, took out about $45 million in agriculture production.
For over 400 years, Puerto Rico’s economy was based on agriculture, historically focused on sugar cane, tobacco and citrus fruits. The island’s economy rapidly industrialized after World War II, leading to the downfall of agriculture production. In recent years, in part because of the island’s economic recession, people went back to the fields, and the industry is going through a small renaissance, growing at 3 to 5 percent every year over the past six years, Mr. Flores said. A growing farm-to-table movement has generated optimism in recent years about an agricultural rebirth.
Puerto Rico already imports about 85 percent of its food, and now its food imports are certain to rise drastically as local products like coffee and plantains are added to the list of Maria’s staggering losses. Local staples that stocked supermarkets, school lunchrooms and even Walmart are gone.
The situation for Dominica will be even worse. Unlike a lot of the Caribbean islands, they did not go “all in” on tourism and had a large agricultural/farming sector, much larger than Puerto Rico’s. That will be all gone after their hit by Maria. Diversifying away from tourism and agriculture will be tough since they have such a small population (only 70,000) on an isolated island.