Do more for farmers
Collectively, Barbados needs to send a strong message to both thieves and farmers that we will not tolerate or support the growing trend of argricultural theft.
This is a matter that has been the topic of debate at all levels of the community for several years, but it would appear that very little has been accomplished in achieving a reversal. In fact, we have moved far away from the situation where a “poor” person may “pull a potato or two” to feed his children to one in which individuals and groups raid fields at night taking hundreds of pounds of produce.
We cannot be serious about encouraging individuals to get involved in farming as a means of reducing unemployment as well as gaining and saving foreign exchange when unscrupulous persons can literally sit and wait for harvest time to reap what they did not sow.
Just two days ago, we had the situation in which dairy farmer Stephen Williams disclosed that so far this year thieves had taken 20 newborn Red Pole calves valued at $1 000 each. While he was successful in recovering six, his losses would still have been considerable, especially when you take into account the thousands of dollars each would have been worth had he had the opportunity to raise them to maturity.
Add to that the $2 000 he is forced to spend each month in security in order to safeguard his investment.
We have had veteran farmers such as Patrick Bethell at Hothersal Plantation in St. Michael abandon almost every crop but sugar cane, and all Barbados must recall the days when thieves would drive away with ten of thousands of dollars in food crops from Wakefield Plantation in St John.
We have even heard of cane farmers who minutes after deploying their mechanical harvesters discovered that thieves had taken all but the outer rows of sugarcane from some fields, leaving them with thousands of dollars in losses. If we are observant it can’t be hard to visualise this, especially when we see individuals selling bag after bag of peeled and chopped pieces of sugar cane at the side of the highway for weeks ahead of the start of the harvest.
We are satisfied that the situation with sugar cane offers a clear explanation of why these thieves continue to thrive — they have a ready market. No one goes out in the middle of the night to steal potatoes, yams, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, cucumbers, watermelons and so much more, at the risk being stung by centipedes or shot by a farmer if he is not confident of a ready market the following morning.
The householders who buy unusually cheap vegetables from persons who they know are not regular hawkers and who do not grow anything; the purchasing managers at commercial establishments who will not take the time to check for proof of legitimate ownership because they are getting “a steal of a bargain”; the operator of a lunch wagon who will take chicken and beef from someone of questionable character because of the potential for a bigger profit margin, all contribute to the problem.
Our lawmen need to pay more attention to this matter, our judicial system needs to exact maximum penalty from those who are caught, and our policymakers need to do more than tell farmers to put up no-trespassing signs.
Together we can do considerably more to help our farmers with this problem.