U.S. Department of Agriculture officials from the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Food and Nutrition Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Rural Development, joined Puerto Rico’s First Lady, Wilma Pastrana on Wednesday to announce the expansion of its StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity program into Puerto Rico.
The announcement was made at Finca González in Guánica and represents the initial launch of a new initiative to address chronic rural poverty in the Commonwealth by working with community partners to create jobs, feed kids, assist farmers, secure safe homes and conserve natural resources, the agency said.
In 2010, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack established USDA’s StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity to address the specific challenges associated with rural poverty. Using data from the National Census, USDA state based leadership identified specific rural areas enduring the worst chronic poverty in need of StrikeForce attention. StrikeForce teams have facilitated collaboration with more than 500 community partners and public entities to bring targeted assistance to these areas.
“USDA’s first priority is to build the rural economy,” said Vilsack. “With 85 percent of our country’s persistent poverty counties in rural areas, our commitment is especially deep in these communities.”
Through StrikeForce efforts, USDA has invested more than $16.5 billion in specific efforts to stimulate chronic rural economies. These investments have helped facilitate:
- More than 69 million meals to low income children through the Summer Food Service Program;
- More than 125,000 low income home owners to receive loans to repair or purchase homes;
- 8,000 low income farmers and ranchers access capital through low interest loans or other financial services;
- 11,800 contracts to conserve and manage natural resources and land conservation;
- More than 5,100 new or retained jobs through rural business development activities.
After the announcement, officials toured USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s project sites in Río Loco and Guánica Bay Watershed, and Rural Development project sites in Coamo, to learn about current agency programs and future local efforts.