Arresting praedial larceny - A regional imperative
The impact of wide-scale theft of farm crops, livestock, as well as fresh-water (aquaculture) and marine fish in undermining the individual efforts of regional farmers and fisherfolk to achieve economic independence level and regional states to achieve food security, has long been recognised. Still this scourge continues, with seemingly no end in sight.
"Praedial larceny has been recognised at the highest level of leadership in CARICOM (Caribbean Community) as one of the constraints to successful implementation of the Regional Transformation Programme for Agriculture.
"A 2010 survey carried out among regional stakeholders indicated that more than 90 per cent agree that praedial larceny is the single most discouraging aspect of agriculture and has become a disincentive to investment in the sector and a threat to livelihoods in farming and fishing communities.
"On average, 82 per cent of farmers and fishermen affected are commercial or semi-commercial producers, indicating that praedial larceny strikes at the heart of agricultural productivity in the region as well as the food security of its most vulnerable populations."
This extract from an 'Analysis of the State of Praedial Larceny in member states of CARICOM', commissioned by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, shows clearly that the extent and nature of praedial larceny in the Caribbean has changed from the petty crimes of 20 years ago to an offence resulting in millions of dollars in loss annually.
Conservative estimates are that the loss resulting from praedial larceny in crops, livestock, and fresh and marine fish is in the region of US$321 million dollars annually or an estimated 17.9 per cent of regional agriculture output, according to this document.
"This does not take into account the future loss to agriculture productivity as high-quality genetic breeds of livestock and crop varieties are stolen from breeding stations and agriculture research facilities to be sold as food.
Also not taken into consideration in this analysis are the potential public health consequences and subsequent industry consequences when uncertified crops or livestock meats are integrated into the domestic food chain. The social implications are as serious in nature, as it is estimated that this crime is the most extensive among all crimes in CARICOM member states," the analysis shows.
It continues: "Praedial larceny is now one of the most pervasive and entrenched crimes in business and livelihoods and, in at least one member state, it exceeds all other types of crimes. By this manner, the extent of the incidences and level of risk from praedial larceny are complicated by the extensive groups of individuals who have developed livelihoods and businesses from stealing agricultural produce, either to supplement household food security or to sustain a business activity."
The issue of intergenerational poverty - triggered directly by the failure of farmers to provide the economic platform for their children via higher education and business startups, despite putting in the requisite hard work and losing the economic benefits to thieves - is an area of study that needs to be addressed.
The issue of tainted foods entering the system, through praedial larceny channels, was identified as a matter of grave concern.
"Also not taken into consideration in this analysis are the potential public health consequences and subsequent industry consequences when uncertified crops or livestock meats are integrated into the domestic food chain, " the 2010 document notes.
REDUCE PRAEDIAL LARCENY
Regionally, a wide range of produce is stolen, with commercial crop farmers frequently losing more than 35 per cent of their harvest and, from time to time, the entire harvest. Livestock farmers also suffer substantial losses in heads of cattle, sheep and goats, and aquaculture, farmers lose entire harvest of fish, while marine fishers lose fish as well as boats and boat engines.
A major concern for the thousands of affected is the widespread insensitivity to their plight - the multiplier effect of the social and economic consequences of praedial larceny - by members of the security forces and the judiciary.
"Farmers have become frustrated by long delays in the court cases and have registered their disillusionment with the justice system, as most no longer show an interest in reporting incidences. As a result, at a regional level, only an estimated 45 per cent of incidences are reported to the police.
"In this circumstance, many praedial larcenists have no reason to consider the probability of any negative consequences for the act," the study acknowledges.
It goes on to cite the growing antagonism between the thieves and their victims, which has resulted in more injuries and sometimes loss of lives on both sides.
The analysis recommends among other things, that this scourge must be recognised under law for the serious crime it has become, in nature and in magnitude.
Priority must be given to tighter measures of enforcement and appropriateness of the penalties handed out by the court. In addition, the court system must be significantly improved in its capacity to manage praedial larceny offences in a timely manner.
The areas recommended for examination include the determination of a mechanism to identify the best set of actions to manage prevention and risk reduction at the local level.
"This will require close collaboration between the communities, the ministry and the police and considerations for the signing of a memorandum of understanding among all three on roles and responsibilities.
"Public education sessions, discussions on prevention, responsible information sharing and community policing, among others, are also recommended."