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A new pursuit for well-being and resilience in Puerto Rico: Healthier communities for a healthier Island

A healthier, more resilient, Puerto Rican society through an engaging food environment that embraces a culture of innovation.

Photo of Ernesto Cruz
22 12

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Puerto Rico Science Technology and Research Trust

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Our application team is a multidisciplinary team composed of: Farmer Business: Ricardo Burgos, Operator of Hacienda Costa Verde; Small company (under 50 employees): Nayla Bezares, Co-Owner, Baravena Foods; Small NGO (under 50 employees): Yanel De Ángel, Partner, Resilient-SEE PR; Research Institution & Government: UPR-Mayaguez, Professor, Myrna Comas, PhD (past Secretary of Agriculture in Puerto Rico).

Website of Legally Registered Entity

http://prsciencetrust.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

San Juan

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Puerto Rico

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Archipelago of Puerto Rico which covers an area of about 9,936 km^2. Also referred to as Island, Puerto Rico or PR.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Puerto Rico

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Puerto Rico is our home, where tradition and memories are rooted by our ancestors, and where our hopes and expectations aim to flourish for future generations to enjoy. 

Our mission is to "invest, facilitate and build capacity to continually advance Puerto Rico’s economy and its citizens’ well-being through innovation-driven enterprises, science and technology and its industrial base". We design Puerto Rico's public policy for science and technology, and foster dialogue to increase understanding and drive social capital creation.

The subject matters for  our 19 programs include: infrastructure, GIS, vector control, public health, clean water, clinical investigation, research and prevention of tropical disease, response innovation, business continuity, agricultural recovery, business networking, cultural heritage innovation, STEM education, citizen participation, tropical biodiversity, technology transfer, business incubation and acceleration, rural aqueducts, and research grants. 

PRST is led by a top-notch, committed, cross-disciplinary team whose capacities are braided to tackle complex problems and designing sustainable solutions to address them. 

After the 2017 hurricanes, PRST programs shifted their focus, and new programs were created, guided by collaboration and solidarity, in multi-million, multi-stakeholder exercise of applied science and technology to address the most important aspect of our recovery:  the sustainable well-being of our people.  

Other team members are: Resilient-SEE PR, a global multi-disciplinary alliance committed to pro-bono design and planning to rebuild a resilient, sustainable Puerto Rico through thoughtful design and strategic planning; Nayla Bezares (small business owner); Ricardo Burgos (local producer); and Myrna Comas-Pagan (Researcher).

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Puerto Rico is a US territory in the Caribbean since 1898, making it the oldest colony in the new world. This situation has polarized Island politics and impeded regenerative practices of our political and economic planning, a distinction that matters as it explains the extractive of an economic system that benefits absentee capital by way of subsidies and tax incentives. 

Politically, Puerto Ricans travel under US passport, but -culturally- neither Island nor mainland diaspora Puerto Ricans identify as “Americans”, even though the level of assimilation is noticeable.

The 1930’s saw needed economic recovery legislation (PR Emergency Relief Act and PR Reconstruction Administration) and massive migration to the US.  The same as in the 1960's, when New Deal policy of industrialization by invitation, Operation Bootstrap, saw the Island transform into the Jewel of the Caribbean, as it transitioned away from agrarian lifestyles (including a well-established culture of subsistence farming) requiring rural to urban migration to boost manufacturing at the expense agriculture, as high-skilled jobs and urban lifestyles paved the way to an import- dependent food system.  

Absence of a well thought out planning process saw PR falter with the oil crisis in the 1970'swhen the Island began to lose its luster as a showcase of economic development. Further,the gradual elimination of tax subsidies for US manufacturing companies in PR (1990's) set the stage of the Island's recession, later complicated by a real estate crisis (2000's), default on public debt (2008), hurricanes (2017) and earthquakes (2020).  At present, a regenerative economic model is urgent, as today we import over 85% of all food consumed, which has had a notorious effect in the health of our people.

Today, 94% of the population lives in urban areas, but there is a clear declining trend in the Island's growth rate and a loss of inhabitants (600,00+ in the 2008-2018 period).  Worth noting, for the first time diaspora population is higher than Island population by 1.8 million (2014).

The historical exchange of cultural norms and traditions makes it easy for islanders to communicate in English as well as in their native Spanish language. Puerto Rico's talents and accomplishments are well known in a variety of creative and cultural industry centers, especially in music.  Puerto Ricans are also ardent sports enthusiasts, especially in baseball, boxing, and basketball, where we compete in amateur, Olympic, and professional spheres.

A constant over time is the Puerto Rican diet (comida criolla) is well-seasoned but rarely spicy. Plantains, avocados, cassava, and other tropical tubers are common. Also, tropical fruits are plentiful, especially mangoes, papayas, pineapples, bananas, coconuts, oranges, grapefruits, and guavas. While Puerto Ricans have become adept at preparing these in a variety of ways to expand gastronomic offerings, we can only claim limited self-reliance over staples like meat, milk, and bananas, which is in sharp contrast to our inherently unhealthy and culturally-relevant dietary choices (high counts of carbs and saturated fats, and consequent low nutrient diversity).

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

9936

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

3195000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

ECONOMICS Our farmers are increasingly forced out of the system due to limited access to capital and local markets and the financial burdens of stringent food safety requirements. Our local food system lacks food processing facilities, optimized trucking routes and distribution channels based on spatial data, over relies on imported inputs and our main retail locations are owned by external entities.  Our food economy has no roots in PR. 

POLICY The absence of an encompassing food systems policy is a reflection of the need for scientific understanding of our most pressing issues. The absence of technical capacity and analysis among leaders further damages our potential for success. The resulting effect is a functional disconnect between standards in the food production cycle leading to toxic agricultural practices, lack of protection of our natural resources, and poor public health outcomes.

DIET+WELLBEING The health of our citizens is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, processed and highly processed foods dominate the food environment in Puerto Rico. While our import dependency influences the low quality of available produce it is true that our culture favors unhealthy dietary patterns. With the 5th highest ratio of fast food establishments, we are challenged with developing food environments that invite convenience, innovation, and nutrition into our cultural spaces promoting healthy diets from a sustainable food system. 

TECHNOLOGY Our vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters challenges us to leverage technologies to secure sources of safe water, power generation, and food production in the most extreme of cases. Mitigating disaster-related disruptions will become increasingly necessary. Central to bridge our technological gaps is the limited extent to which Information Technology and Communication resources are available throughout PR. This contributes to the limited adoption of precision agriculture tools, food science and limited application of genetic technologies. 

NATURAL ENVIRONMENT Over half of our waste disposal facilities will be closed by 2022 due to environmental contamination risks, yet both central and city governments remain demonstrably unprepared to manage solid waste. Organic waste makes up 40% of our landfills. Low-input agricultural methods are not promoted or significantly adopted by the agricultural sector but runoff is a significant water contaminant. These risks exist in a highly volatile natural context, that has already reshaped the agricultural landscape and our notion of safety for future development.

CULTURE We are challenged to adopt an agroecological mindset in our relationship with food; closer emotional ties in tune with our natural heritage; and subjective responsibility to address the effects of our individual and collective actions.  towards mindful consumption. As it relates to diets, we are challenged to consider culturally relevant alternatives that are healthier and sustainable.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

ECONOMY. A comprehensive STEAM platform will support the development of individuals at every life stage, building capacity for a regenerative economy. Our food system will be a source of growth opportunities with a job market that is ready to embrace innovation. The concept of a “farm” will include controlled environments, open urban settings and rural settings. Food production facilities will provide alternative proteins from laboratories and insect farms. Ultra-efficient facilities will run on renewable energy and automation technology. Biological inputs and livestock feed will be produced locally through upcycling activities and local biological resources. 

POLICY. As we embrace a culture of sustainability and a mindset of resiliency, we will demand government and private sector to act on these fronts. A multi-stakeholder food policy action committee will be responsible for the development and upkeep of a citizen's manifesto that promotes social wellbeing. An equitable food economy will allocate subsidies towards innovative, trustworthy and health-promoting practices informed by a countrywide public dashboard that tracks natural resource quality, environmental emissions, and public health indicators by business sector. This information will feed into policymaking to attend to our more food insecure and vulnerable stakeholders.

CULTURE. As we embrace sustainability and resiliency as central to our traditions, a new paradigm will drive a consumer revolution that prioritizes our natural ecosystems and collective well-being through consumer and political choices. Our food will be re-imagined to minimize its impact on our ecosystems and new dietary patterns will emerge without losing our respect, appreciation and connection to our traditions.

TECHNOLOGY. To harness the power of interconnectivity, widespread broadband access will fuel our economy with continuous communication and learning through: monitoring of key performance indicators for safety, climate variability, ecosystem health, and citizen wellbeing. Accountability and transparency will advance an agenda of shared values and subjective responsibility. Our food system will adopt global best practices and improve upon them in partnership with research institutions. Automation and AI will improve efficiency and productivity of farming practices while redirecting human capital to other, more valuable regenerative activities. 

DIET+WELLBEING. Wellbeing indicators will be personalized to meet individual genes and needs. Empowered with knowledge of nutrition and genomics, and surrounded by a food environment that offers delicious, affordable and nutritious options, we will make food choices that promote our health. The resulting benefits will free resources that can be reassigned to nurturing those who are most vulnerable. 

NATURAL ENVIRONMENT. We will rely on renewable energy, firm policies against harmful elements in our imports, and upcycle waste and byproducts to minimize ecosystem effects.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

A visionary plan is needed that acknowledges the association between agricultural activities, food markets, economic development, and health outcomes in Puerto Rico. Could the displaced labor from abandoned manufacturing operations be incorporated into a renewed food system in the island? How can we create a physical food environment that engages people in activities that promote their overall wellbeing? What other indicators, besides GDP, can measure the incremental societal gains from a healthy population and healthy natural ecosystems?

Our vision centers on developing a vibrant, nutritious and accessible food environment that sets the way for a new pursuit of wellbeing. We use the lens of resilience to address the diverse, and often conflicting, needs of all actors along the food system and identify the elements which need to be developed in this envisioned food environment. Our vision then proposes that food can bring forth solutions that engross the three pillars of sustainable development: society, environment, and the economy. By acknowledging that food is part of a water and energy well-being nexus, our vision leverages Puerto Rican organizations, institutions, and existing infrastructure so that our transition towards the future is inclusive of all who have worked in these fields and bring their perspectives in the development of a regenerative future for all.

To confront the impending challenges of 2050-climate change, global food shortages, ecosystems degradation, and deteriorated human health- we set a new paradigm: progress as the pursuit of collective wellbeing by understanding and addressing the linkages between biophysical and socioeconomic science. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Fellow People of Puerto Rico:

Your ways, your land and how you express your love for it, your heritage, and your vibrant energy has made your name familiar to millions around the globe. From your music to your athletes, you smile at the sight of your flag and to any stranger you pridefully share your heritage as a Boricua. Today we call on you to be part of the solution to humanity's most pressing challenge- the world around you needs you, needs all of us, to engage in a transformation of our ways, our expectations and our values- so that we can preserve life as we know it. 

The year 2050 marks our calendars to remind us that we have been the authors of our own demise as too much destruction, depletion and degradation of our natural resources has taken place. We are warned of the risks of inaction by way of changes in global temperature, a population that is too big to be fed, and a planet that aches for healing. Extreme events occurring in all regions are reducing the prospects of agricultural land while our system is unable to distribute food equitably to its population.  In short, our planet aches for healing. 

Albeit our size, the world's eyes have turned to us for our spirit and vision many times before. Now is the time to reframe our aspirations and desires, and to be firm and resolute in this much-warranted process of change. Let us move forward!

The transformation we need to undergo starts with each of us, inside us, with a change in what we value most. In doing so, we will need strength of will to change our values and face and meet the needs of a changing world. We will learn to embrace a system that nurtures curiosity, solidarity, hope, empathy and engagement. These values will need to be present throughout our lives as we grow and age. A transformation of our educational system towards an eco-pedagogical praxis will set the foundation for a society that respectfully coexist with nature as we become both learners and stewards.

To support these values in all spheres of life, we will assume our role as citizens and participate collaboratively in decisions that define our policies. Our policy decisions will be informed by science and be conducive to a regenerative economy that focuses primarily on our collective wellbeing. We will engage as members of government, communities, and special interest groups by contributing data, supporting research activities and putting to practice adaptation strategies in the face of changing scenarios.

Our economy will thrive because it will revolve around your wellbeing. Nested within a supportive policy environment, communities will support each other and businesses will embrace regenerative practices in benefit of their consumer base. This transition will be supported through shared-value incentives to nurture businesses that positively meet their share of responsibility in their environmental and social performance.

The way we engage in this transition will be defined by our reliance on renewable energy sources. Broadband ubiquity will allow us to embrace innovation while data-driven technologies will increase system interoperability.  Performance monitoring of market dynamics along the food value chain will help ensure that safety, transparency, and environmental sustainability attributes of its products are easily identifiable, helping you make informed choices. As we expect more erratic and extreme weather patterns, our food system will be ready to recover from shocks by securing a local nutritious food supply that can be accessible when needed the most. New technological developments in GIS, blockchain, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence will further catapult scientific research to continuously improve food production, waste management, and renewable energy development. New knowledge will be openly shared to enable lifelong learning opportunities. Your well being and the regenerative nature of our economic interactions will be designed by data analytics and your very own, unique genome. 

The health of our natural ecosystems, the life that surrounds us and the essence of our being, depend on this transformation we are embarking on. Our interaction with nature begins with conservation practices and is motivated by sustainable agriculture. Our island will become a catalytic for environmental stewardship among island nations. Together we will revert the damages of previous waste management practices through biological soil remediation and upcycling practices. A transformed supply chain will effectively optimize resource use as it will be calibrated with the island’s upcycling system. With existing landfills as a primary source of raw materials, a new remanufacturing sector will offer new opportunities for innovative design. Agricultural sites will flourish and surround every aspect of our daily lives because we will manage organic wastes anaerobically in digesters that will contribute to our energy generation sites. Honoring our roots will have a different look, but we will continue to observe the hard work and values of our people by loving and caring for our soils and water, which will regenerate and continue to provide life.

Embracing new ways will take us to unexplored frontiers of cultural manifestation, from theater, to gastronomy and literature, a new level of consciousness is attained as new knowledge is shared. Our level of subjective responsibility permeates among citizens and corporations. We continue to import foods, but not as we did before. We recognize our physical land constraints, so we ensure that our food imports contribute to the resilience of our food system. A culture of subsistence agriculture re-emerges, driven by experiential learning in STEAM education, that will also increase awareness and support leadership development that fosters environmental stewardship for human wellbeing.  These will become our new cultural drivers.

A wide variety of locally-grown produce will be the main ingredients of delicious food products that are accessible to all families and communities.  Food diversity will increase, on account of growing local agricultural activity, and the wellbeing of our society collectively rises. We see food as medicine and we celebrate life through it. 


Puerto Rico, the future is bright. Our time is here to pursue our wellbeing by taking care of ourselves and caring for our small piece of land in the ocean, by learning to coexist in harmony.  We have taken too much from our future generations.  It's about time we reverse the trend, and start building the future today.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Photo of Village Development  Center (VDC)
Team

Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

Photo of Nayla Bezares
Team

Hello Village Development Center (VDC) ! Thanks for your note :) I am curious about the Food Extension Initiative you are referring to and would love to learn more about it!
Best wishes, Nayla

Photo of Village Development  Center (VDC)
Team

Thank you so much for the feedback. ( Food Extension Initiative ) = The purpose is to encourage, encourage, manage or take necessary steps to increase food production. If you have trouble understanding please e-mail again.

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