Putting an end to farm pillage
Farmers and agricultural interests must be optimistic about the $15.7 million provided for praedial larceny prevention in the current Budget. We, too, are encouraged that serious attention will be given to this perennial problem that has been threatening the livelihood and viability of the nation’s farmers.
Under this programme, more than 7,000 head of cattle will be tagged as part of a national animal identification and traceability system that has been in the making for many years as policymakers try to grapple with the scourge of regular theft of livestock and farm produce.
President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Senator Norman Grant, estimates that the country’s 220,000 farmers suffered a combined loss of $6 billion to praedial larceny in 2014. Yet the dollar amount does not begin to describe the frustration and nuisance that farmers bear when they lose their livelihood to thieves.
The national cattle population is estimated to be about 70,000. On the face of it, the tagging of 7,500 is a drop in the bucket. However, it is a start, and hopefully it will send a message to the thieves who prey on farmers that fighting agricultural crimes has been placed on the front burner.
The worry is that even with animals being tagged, brazen thieves will still attempt to steal them if they know that a ready market exists for the loot. This means that farmers are required to install their own safeguards and remain vigilant. We suggest that extreme vigilance is required in monitoring cattle that is butchered at the many abattoirs across the country. It always comes down to enforcement to achieve the desired result in stemming criminal activity.
It is conceivable that in the minds of our crime fighters less attention is paid to praedial larceny since it does not usually involve much violence. And in a country with more than 1,000 homicides each year, the focus may be best placed on murders and violent crimes. Perhaps this is why Senator Grant, in welcoming the appointment of Commissioner of Police Carl Williams last year, appealed to him to place agricultural crime on the front line of his crime-fighting efforts.
Ever so close to the reality of praedial theft and being aware of the dent that it puts in farmers’ wallets, if Senator Grant had his way, praedial larceny would be treated as organised crime under the Proceeds of Crime Act, allowing for the seizure of assets gained from agricultural theft. The senator’s observations seem to be on point, because there appears to be criminals organised in groups with the express intention of raiding farms in much the same way that there are criminals who specialise in stealing motor vehicles.
We submit that the punishment should fit the crime. Harsh punishment for those caught is another way of sending a message that the society will not tolerate the consistent pillage of its farming sector.
Finally, we could not discuss this problem of praedial larceny without shining the light on those who would quickly snatch up stolen goods without a thought of their origin, or for the farmer who has been fleeced. The main factors that drive praedial thieves are opportunity, monetary gain from the loot, and an easy way to dispose of the stolen goods. Those who buy stolen produce continue to make praedial larceny a lucrative activity for those involved.