Staff behind praedial plunder, says farmer
Farmers in St Mary believe the Government must create new legislation and more employment opportunities for local people if they are truly serious about reducing the perpetual problem of praedial larceny.
Having won a string of Champion Farmer Awards in St Mary and at Denbigh over the past three years, Grace White has become frustrated by continual theft, which has forced her to scale down the sizeable agricultural project she has in Highgate, St Mary.
Last year, crooks stole more than 4,000lb of cabbage from her farm, leaving her angry and frustrated. White told The Gleaner: "When people talk about praedial larceny, I don't hear them talking the underlying issue, which is staff theft.
"No one wants to get caught, so a thief is not going into a place they don't know, without someone on the inside. Nobody comes into your property and steals, unless the people working for you are involved.
"The problem we have in this business is getting honest managers and staff to run the farm and its operations. Unless I can find an honest manager, it doesn't make sense to continue investing millions of dollars every year if someone else is doing all the reaping.
"We need to recognise that we have a systemic problem that is not just about policing. I think part of it is about opportunity. Perhaps if the Government worked on trying to create an environment that creates employment, opportunities, and economic prospects, then we can have a cultural change."
General manager of the fresh foods division at JP Tropical Foods, Dr Damian Graham; agrees. He believes that in addition to more jobs, the government must also pass tougher legislation to tackle the issue.
He said: "To me, the number one problem is that there are a lot of people in St Mary who are either unemployed or underemployed, which leads a lot of the young people to engage in this type of behaviour.
"You find that because the unemployment rate is so high, people try to go for easy money rackets and scams. And there are a lot people that come from outside of the parish who use the desperation of these people to motivate them to steal.
"I think sterner laws and penalties need to be passed right through the system for people who are caught in possession of stolen produce. That way, the wholesaler, retailer, and the man who is buying a fruit smoothie are all conscious of not buying stolen fruit."
St Mary's police chief, Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, added: "We've done quite a lot to try and reduce praedial larceny, but I think one of the biggest problems is that farmers don't bother to report some of these incidents because they don't believe the police will take them seriously or put enough resources into the investigation.
"As a result, we've really tried our best to upgrade these investigations, because at the end of the day, people are losing revenue, and we want them to know their reports, even if it's just a hand of bananas, will be addressed."