EDITORIAL: Too long a blind eye to crop theft
THE DISCLOSURE over the weekend that local farmers now have to contend with organised groups involved in the theft of their produce for commercial purposes must be viewed as yet another blow to a critical, but struggling, economic sector.
Most reasonable people would accept that drought and other atmospheric challenges are beyond their control, even though they may be able to take certain steps to mitigate the damage. Additionally, within the farming community it is accepted that given today’s modern means of transportation, battling new pests is likely to become a growing problem.
And these are just the tip of the iceberg farmers face. Major subsidisation in large markets that facilitate the export of artificially cheap produce to smaller markets such as ours, genetic modification and the utilisation of chemicals that promote rapid growth also present competitive challenges.
Against this backdrop, the last thing our farmers need is to be left to operate in an environment where they are free to plant, while others are apparently just as free to reap. While theft is wrong, morally and legally, there is a vast difference between a youngster breaking and sucking a stalk of sugar cane and organised groups reaping half a field of potatoes or a whole field of carrots in the dead of night and then selling them in the public market or to some hotel, restaurant, supermarket or other business the next day.
It can’t be unreasonable for those who suffer at the hands of these unconscionable individuals to believe we have reached this point only because as a society we have turned a blind eye to it for so long that the culprits now believe what they are doing is okay.
Those responsible for policing and prosecution have not committed nearly enough resources to combatting the problem; those who have controlled our Parliament for the last three decades have hardly given more than lip service; and consumers both large and small have been complicit by purchasing these stolen goods while fully aware they were illegally obtained or, at least, while harbouring suspicions about their origin.
We have told the farmers to hire guards, put up fences and no-trespassing signs and use modern technology like cameras and motion sensors. For years we have talked about receipts, licences and the provision of powers to stop and question people travelling with agricultural produce. We have even talked about introducing tough new praedial larceny legislation. But while we talk, the farmers continue to suffer as the thieves grow fat.
It is time we stop talking and start acting. It is also not unreasonable to expect the relevant people in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Home Affairs to come up with a plan to deploy the necessary resources in a special security unit to patrol fields, investigate theft and prosecute the villains.
We agree with Member of Parliament and chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society, James Paul, that the resources of the Barbados Defence Force should be deployed if the Royal Barbados Police Force does not have the manpower and equipment to do it alone.
But to continue to leave our farmers at the mercy of these miscreants is a gross dereliction of duty by those responsible, particularly the policymakers in the House of Assembly, who should have acted decisively on this matter many years ago. We would not tolerate such open attacks on the operators in any other sector, so why do we continue to behave as though it is okay to reap the produce of other persons’ hard labour once it can be found in an agricultural field or a chicken pen? Our farmers deserve better.