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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Dare we hope?

Dr Frances Chandler, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Dare we hope?

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I’M SURE OUR farmers appreciate last week’s spurt of action from the police and the courts, resulting in a few convictions and jail sentences for crop thieves. Just shows where there’s a will, there’s a way! Dare we hope this action will be sustained not only with crops, but also with livestock?

The excuse for the lack of success in prosecuting and convicting these criminals has often been the fact that the Praedial Larceny Act needs updating. While that may be so, last week’s events show that even the present legislation can be effective once there’s the determination to enforce it.

It’s encouraging that sentences up to two yearswere imposed, since previously, if there was a conviction at all, three months seemed to be the maximum, with the thief being freed just in time for the harvest of the next crop.

Furthermore, as one farmer noted, these thieves shouldn’t be allowed to “cool out” in Dodds, but should be made to work daily on the prison farm to produce crops , the proceeds of which should be used to reimburse farmers. Maybe then, they too would appreciate what’s involved in producing crops, not only harvesting them.

Unfortunately, as noted in the SUNDAY SUN report, those convicted are only the “foot soldiers” in this business. The real perpetrators are those providing markets for large quantities of stolen produce – similar situation I suppose to the conviction of people with a few “spliffs” as against the big bosses in the drug business.

Some years ago, Barbados’ largest supermarket chain implemented a purchasing system requiring all fresh produce suppliers to present a Certificate of Purchase (part of the regulations attached to the Praedial Larceny Act). It was actually quite effective, but unfortunately, when the certificates ran out, it proved impossible to obtain more, despite incessant appeals to the appropriate Government officials.

Apparently, these are now available from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Planning Unit. Strict enforcement of this regulation could do wonders for curbing this scourge of crop theft.

The farmers’ passion and frustration regarding crop theft was forcefully demonstrated while I was attending a meeting in a farmer’s office last week. Some agro-chemical representatives were making their sales pitch for various products said to be effective in improving crop growth, enhancing yields and so on.

After listening quietly and carefully, the farmer responded, “Yes, all that sounds good, but what’s the point of increasing yields for the thieves to harvest?” He then launched into a very “colourful” description of what farmers had to put up with in order to grow a crop, then have it stolen at harvest time without having any meaningful recourse.

This incessant stealing discourages investment in agriculture and farmers with children whowould normally take over the farm are dissuading themfrom taking this step. So at this rate, local agriculture will soon be non-existent and we’ll be left at themercy of overseas suppliers who can then name their price.

Crop theft affects us all, so we must all take an interest. It’s not only the farmer (large and small) who suffers losses, but also his employees. Most farmers pay workers based on the weight of produce they harvest. So if large quantities of that produce are stolen, it leaves less for the workers to harvest and hence less pay for them. And, of course, the public at large could be affected if the stolen produce has been sprayed.

I think it’s safe to say that most, if not all, these apprehensions were made by farm personnel.While it’s appreciated that the police can’t be everywhere, I’m told that in Trinidad where there’s a special unit to deal with farm theft, a significant reduction has been noted.

Farmers are forced to employ security and areeven considering using drones if the powers that be come to a conclusion on their regulations. All of this at great cost, which is of course passed on to the consumer. Then we hear complaints about high prices of local produce. Interestingly, there seem to be few complaints about the prices of flat screen TVs, electronic gadgets and so on!

Finally, I hope those in the restaurant trade who often claim local carrots are too small and buy imported instead were able to feast their eyeson the carrots displayed by Mr Pile in the SUNDAY SUN article!

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