RIO PIEDRAS, P.R., June 2, 2016 — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced several measures to strengthen rural opportunity in Puerto Rico, including that the Eastern Region of Puerto Rico has been selected as a federal Promise Zone. Vilsack made the announcement at the conclusion of a three-day trip to Puerto Rico, where he met with elected officials and agricultural and economic leaders to discuss USDA's efforts to support rural communities. Today's measures are in addition to the more than $20 billion USDA has already invested in Puerto Rico since 2009.
"Rural areas like Eastern Puerto Rico face unique challenges, and we are committed to matching those challenges with creative solutions to help strengthen communities," said Vilsack. "The Promise Zones initiative has produced proven results by encouraging collaboration between the federal government, community organizations, the private sector and state and local governments. Through these partnerships, we are supporting jobs and economic opportunities that enable rural areas to thrive."
In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama announced the launch of the Promise Zone initiative to target federal and private resources to high-poverty urban, rural and tribal communities. Through the Promise Zone initiative, USDA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and 10 other federal agencies are partnering with and investing in communities, providing tailored assistance based on the specific needs of a community. The initiative also promotes collaboration between private businesses and federal, state, and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; and striving kids and parents. The purpose of the initiative is to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety. Without this federal commitment, it can be difficult for these communities to break through barriers and navigate through the available assistance on their own.
Vilsack met with members of the Puerto Rican agricultural production sector, including farmers, ranchers, livestock producers, and specialty crop producers, and Dr. Myrna Comas, Secretary of Agriculture for Puerto Rico, and Pablo Jimenez, president of the College of Agronomist for Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has a total of 637,000 acres of agriculture land, with a total of 13,000 farmers. During the last few years, agriculture has become one of the most effective economic development industries in the Commonwealth. Great challenges exist in the sector, including high energy costs, vulnerability to climate change, and market development. This meeting served as an opportunity to discuss partnerships, particularly in conservation and marketing, to help Puerto Rican producers seize on the productivity of their natural resources as well as adaptation and mitigation of climate change in the Caribbean.
In April 2015, USDA announced that Puerto Rico would join the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative works to address the unique set of challenges faced by many of America's rural communities. Through StrikeForce, USDA is leveraging resources and collaborating with partners and stakeholders to improve economic opportunity and quality of life in these areas. These efforts have invested more than $331 million in Puerto Rico in 2015 alone to create jobs, build homes, feed kids, assist farmers and conserve natural resources. Throughout the life of the program, USDA has invested $23.5 billion across 25 StrikeForce states and Puerto Rico.