Correlating drought conservation practices and drought vulnerability in a tropical agricultural system

TitleCorrelating drought conservation practices and drought vulnerability in a tropical agricultural system
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsÁlvarez-Berríos, N, Soto-Bayó, S, Holupchinski, E, Fain, S, Gould, W
JournalRenewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Pagination 279-291
KeywordsAdaptation, agricultural drought, conservation programs, hotspot analysis, Puerto Rico
AbstractRecent droughts in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean have emphasized the region's agricultural vulnerability to this hazard and the increasing need for adaptation mechanisms to support sustainable production. In this study, we assessed the geographic extent of agricultural conservation practices incentivized by US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and evaluated their large-scale contribution to drought adaptability. We identified concentrations of drought-related practices (e.g. cover crops, ponds) applied between 2000 and 2016. Using information from spatial databases and interviews with experts, we assessed the spatial correlation between these practices and areas exposed to drought as identified by the US Drought Monitor. Between 2000 and 2016, Puerto Rico experienced seven drought episodes concentrated around the south, east and southeastern regions. The most profound drought occurred between 2014 and 2016 when the island experienced 80 consecutive weeks of moderate drought, 48 of severe drought and 33 of extreme drought conditions. A total of 44 drought-related conservation practices were applied at 6984 locations throughout 860 km2 of farmlands between 2000 and 2016 through the NRCS-Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Practices related to water availability were statistically clustered along the coasts, whereas soil and plant health practices were clustered in the mountainous region. While these concentrations strongly correlated with areas exposed to moderate drought conditions, >80% did not coincide with areas that experienced severe or extreme drought conditions, suggesting that areas highly exposed to drought conditions generally lacked drought preparedness assisted by EQIP. Climate projections indicate an increase in the frequency and intensity of drought events, particularly in the eastern region of Puerto Rico. Our analysis highlighted the need to implement more conservation practices in these areas subject to drought intensification and exposure. Government programs intended to address vulnerabilities and enhance capacity and resilience may not be reaching areas of highest exposure. Recommendations include raising producer awareness of past and future exposure and making programs more accessible to a broader audience.