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Hurricane Maria spells devastation for banana production in the Caribbean

Hurricane Maria brought devastation with it as it stormed through the Caribbean. The storm was especially damaging to banana crops in the region, with Guadeloupe, Martinique and Puerto Rico seeing nearly complete losses of their crops. However, bananas weren't the only casualty, as other crops suffered as well.

Guadeloupe and Martinique
There are only a few trees still standing, but even they were stripped after hurricane Maria devastated nearly 100% of the banana supply in Guadeloupe, and 70% of that of Martinique, according to professionals from sector. The effects could be devastating to the local economy as bananas are the main export crop of these two islands of the French west Indies. 

With gusts blowing at 260 km/h, Maria has left only a handful of banana trees. The production is scheduled to resume in nine to twelve months. "All farms are destroyed. There are no more bananas to export.", reports Agence France-Presse's Francis Lignières, president of the Association of Banana Producers of Guadeloupe, which has 220 members on 2,000 hectares of banana plantations. 

Puerto Rico
Guadeloupe and Martinique weren't the only ones who took a hit, Maria also brought devastation to Puerto Rico. 

José A. Rivera, a farmer on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, stood in the middle of his flattened plantain farm on Sunday and tried to tally how much Hurricane Maria had cost him. “How do you calculate everything?” Mr. Rivera said.

For as far as he could see, every one of his 14,000 trees was down. Same for the yam and sweet pepper crops. His neighbor, Luis A. Pinto Cruz, known to everyone here as “Piña,” figures he is out about $300,000 worth of crops. The foreman down the street, Félix Ortiz Delgado, spent the afternoon scrounging up the scraps that were left of the farm he manages. He found about a dozen dried ears of corn that he could feed the chickens. The wind had claimed the rest.

“There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Rivera predicted. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.”

Hurricane Maria made landfall 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 post-apocalyptic 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. 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.

Puerto Rico currently imports about 85 percent of the food it consumes and exports only 15 percent of what it produces, according to the government. Puerto Rico, Mr. Bhatia said, could service a growing demand for organic foods in the mainland United States. He estimated it could take at least a year to get the industry back up and running, as the soil recovers and farmers replant trees.

But long-term optimism does little to help farmers contemplating the destruction they see around them.

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