Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
UNTIL THE necessary measures are put in place to arrest the growing scourge of praedial larceny, Jamaica's livestock industry will never attract the necessary investments to make it viable or competitive, according to Maxine Brown, livestock specialist with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).
"We still haven't had a breakthrough in how we are actually going to deal with that (praedial larceny) and, because that is not stopped, investors are very sceptical when it comes to investing," Brown told The Gleaner during the recent Minard Livestock and Beef Festival held in Brown's Town, St Ann.
She said efforts efforts to re-energise the sector are being undermined by this criminal activity that has emerged as a vibrant 'cottage industry', costing an estimated $5 billion each year. In addition, spiralling security costs associated with preventing and reducing praedial already is an associated major deterrent to potential investors.
Lack of investors
"They (farmers) don't want to find that after they have done the right things, produced these beautiful animals, somebody can just come in and take the animals. Thieves are not even stealing with a conscience because they are coming and taking everything that you have, if it's possible. So that kind of thing makes it difficult to attract investors," Brown lamented.
This comes against a renewed thrust by RADA to focus on livestock, given that food crops are getting a lot of attention, especially with respect to the long-neglected area of marketing. There are moves to ramp up efforts to reduce the importation of beef, mutton, pork and goat meat. However, rising overhead costs have all but rendered this initiative unfeasible.
"The thing is that all these are also cutting into the profits of the farmer, adding to his cost of production at a time when you want him to be able to produce animals at a low a cost as possible," the livestock specialist said. "Now when he starts thinking about electric fencing, even getting guard dogs, because you have to be feeding them properly, everything is now taking more money than is necessary, overheads are going up, so that is one of the major challenges."
Many farmers continue to raise animals as a hobby, not recognising the true business aspect of livestock farming, which is another setback according to Brown. She pointed to the unwillingness of some owners to properly house, feed and provide adequate health care for their animals. The ongoing effort to change this mindset is yet to bear fruit.
"To do farming, especially livestock farming, you have to do it as business. The thing is we can't force it on farmers. Some farmers just like to raise animals as a hobby, but you have to you let them know that whether it's a hobby or a business, you have to house them properly, you cant have them walking on the streets," said Brown.
She explained that a body count of a farmers' livestock is often seen as a measure of his wealth and, in effect, by letting their stock run loose, they actually have money walking around on the streets.
Areas of neglect
General health care and nutrition, in particular, are areas of neglect cited by the RADA livestock specialist, who went on to explain that even in the absence of veterinary services, farmers can do much more. "It's not that they have to do something dramatic, but everyday things such as deworming, making sure that cuts are treated as soon as possible, treating the navel of new-born animals, dehorning or hoof cleaning whenever necessary," disclosed Brown. "If they do not do these things, then they are not producing the quality animals that can make them competitive."
Brown said that while some gains have been made by way of training courses for farmers, there was need for ongoing training to ensure the sustainability of the desired best practices. "That is really where the challenge is. They (older farmers) are going to tell you that they have been doing this for so many years. What they don't realise is that the world is changing and we have to be producing according to the market," stated the livestock specialist.