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How are farmers in the Dominican Republic responding to flood damages?

Climate impacts cause losses in production and accumulation of debt for farmers in the Dominican Republic.

Luis Campana has been harvesting peppers for seven years in a greenhouse in Rancho Arriba, San José de Ocoa, in the south of the Dominican Republic. He started this business thanks to his father, who instilled in him this habit since he was a child.

However, in less than a year, he has suffered tremendous losses. He lost up to two million Dominican pesos (RD) or about USD $34,066 because heavy rains and persistent flooding decimated a hectare and a half of his harvest in mid-November, 2023. According to Campana, more than 48,000 pepper plants were destroyed. 

At that point, he was left with no money, no peppers, and no means to repay the loans granted by Danilo Medina’s government seven years earlier to open the greenhouse, nor to cover the accumulated interest over time.

For him, it’s no longer a profitable venture.

The November rains set a record for the highest accumulation in Dominican history, reaching 431 millimetres. Hurricane Georges, which struck in September 1998, holds the second-highest record with 409.3 millimetres of rain.

According to Agriculture Minister Limber Cruz, overall, these rains generated losses of over RD$4 billion or about USD $68 million in the agricultural sector.

According to Floods in the Dominican Republic Situation Report from the United Nations System in the Dominican Republic, the investment the Ministry of Agriculture needed to recover the agricultural sector from these damages exceeded USD $77 million.

More than 63,000 hectares of crops were destroyed, equivalent to over 1.5 million square meters of damaged greenhouses, according to the United Nations in the Dominican Republic.

The damage is widespread. 

Further north in the country, in the municipality of Constanza, La Vega, farmer Juan Diego Gómez Quezada has also suffered several losses due to floods.

He primarily harvests vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, curly lettuce, celery, beetroot, and carrots, among other crops. However, during the heavy rains in February of this year, which impacted the Municipal District of Tireo from Tireo Arriba to Tireo Abajo in La Vega, he lost approximately one million Dominican pesos (USD $17,000).

“This represents not only a direct economic loss but also a delay in supplying the market or supermarket. This, in turn, affects prices and the availability of the product for consumers,” said Gómez Quezada.

He added that these losses are not limited to the direct economic value of the damaged crops but also include additional costs of replanting, restoring the affected lands, the consequence of possible impacts on soil quality, and even the interruption of product supply affecting commercial relationships and the trust of their customers.

“It is crucial that we develop strategies to mitigate these risks. This includes investing in infrastructure to protect our crops from natural phenomena, implementing early warning systems, and strengthening our agricultural practices to make them more resilient. Only then can we reduce losses and ensure the long-term sustainability of our production,” explained the young man who has been working in agriculture for six years.

By 2023, agriculture had a 5.4% contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the Dominican Republic.

It is one of the main productive sectors of the country, contributing significantly to the national GDP. Likewise, it is the provider of basic foods and responsible for food security in the country, highlighting the case of rice and other items, which in recent years have increased their production to meet national demand, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Between 2012 and 2022, agricultural areas occupied nearly 50% of the national territory, according to World Bank indicators. In that same year, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Dominican Republic reported that 334,144 people were employed in the agricultural sector. 

According to a 2022 report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food of Spain, 69.7% of crops in the Dominican Republic had increased their yield from 2008 to that date, specifically with products such as cocoa, dried coconuts, pineapple, tomatoes, bananas, and avocados. In 2023, over 5,281,287 million hectares were planted in the Dominican Republic. Rice was the most planted, with almost half of the hectares; the harvest is between December and May; corn, between September and October.

It’s not a new problem.

Since 1979, at least 21 atmospheric phenomena have had economic effects on local agriculture.

Hurricanes Irene and Isaac, occurring in 2011 and 2012, generated 30 million dollars in losses in the agricultural sector.

Hurricane Matthew and other rain-induced floods resulted in losses of 417 million pesos in the Dominican agricultural sector.

Hurricane Fiona, which made landfall on September 19, 2022, affected 45,804 agricultural producers. Damages were also recorded on 1,068,988 hectares, with losses of at least RD $6,727,562,637 (approximately USD $114,511,700), according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

According to the Multihazard Agricultural Sector Contingency Plan of the Ministry of Agriculture for 2024, the Agricultural Risks Directorate of the sector manages a specialized budget for losses and damages from events of RD$150 million annually, (USD $8,700,000,000) to assist insured producers by allocating 50% for losses of their crops.

Likewise, they say that through the Dominican government, 1% of the national budget has been allocated through the Contingency Fund to cover damages and losses in the various sectors of the country, which includes the agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, the planting, harvesting, and production calendar for crops in 2024 forecasts 145,632,990 quintals or 14563299000 kilograms. 

Among the measures presented by the Ministry of Agriculture to reduce the risk of flood damage is to prevent river channels from filling with logs or materials that impede the free flow of water; not to cultivate in flood-prone areas such as riverbanks and swamp surroundings.

However, farmer Gómez Quezada said that the Ministry of Environment and the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (Indrhi) play a crucial role in this issue. Also, the Ministry of Environment should be controlling the accumulation of plastic and garbage in streams and rivers, while the Indrhi should be responsible for proper river and stream channelization.

None of the consulted farmers have received government assistance to recover the money invested in their crops.

“If they really cared about the common good, they would take necessary measures to prevent these regrettable situations. This includes implementing effective programs for cleaning and maintaining bodies of water, as well as infrastructure projects that improve channelization and prevent overflow. Additionally, it would be essential to promote environmental education so that the population also contributes to keeping these spaces clean,” explained Gómez Quezada.

These farmers represent millions across the region who continue to be affected by the effects of the climate crisis. Small-scale farmers like Luis Campana and Juan Diego Gómez Quezada bear the brunt of these climate impacts, losing their livelihoods and incurring significant financial losses without adequate support. The recurring floods and extreme weather events devastating the Dominican agricultural sector highlight the pressing issue of climate justice. 

These farmers, who contribute substantially to the national economy and food security, are disproportionately affected despite being the least responsible for global climate change. 

Although he hasn’t fared well in the agriculture business, Campana doesn’t plan to give up. “If we start lowering our heads, it’s worse, leaving things in God’s hands, waiting to see if He helps us pay.”


Picture of Carolina Pichardo

Carolina Pichardo

Carolina is an award-winning investigative reporter from the Dominican Republic. Currently, she serves as an investigative editor at the oldest newspaper in the DR, Listin Diario. Carolina is also a Chevening and Emerging Media Leaders Programme alum and has experience at the BBC, USA Today, and the Washington Post. She’s an avid fan of travel, reading, and Taylor Swift.

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