Cabbrina Lennox, Gleaner Writer
JEFFREY TOWN, St Mary:A BANANA farmer out of St James has challenged the Government to find a way to compensate farmers for their stolen property whenever the criminals are convicted. Speaking at the 37th annual general meeting of the All-Island Banana Growers Association (AIBGA) at the Port Maria Civic Centre in St Mary on Thursday, Dennis Pearson echoed the plight of farmers affected by this scourge which accounts for some $6 billion in losses each year.
He asked: "When the man steal mi cow weh mi spen so much money pon and the police arrest and bring him to court, how mi get back mi money?"
Pearson went on to suggest that the court should allow the convicted criminal to work to pay back the money, or that the State pays the money on his/her behalf then finds some way of recouping the money. The latter suggestion was met with applause.
Meanwhile, State Minister for Agriculture Ian Hayles agreed that the praedial larceny regulations need to be amended to facilitate compensation for affected farmers, but cited the need for much more work to be done to resuscitate the banana industry.
"We will have to change the law of praedial larceny. We will have to try to find market for your banana," he told the meeting. "We will have to try look at how best in the ministry we could work with the European Union in terms of allowing you the necessary subsidy to survive and at the same time have a look on how to cut the import while you ramp up production."
Hayles assured the banana farmers that they have the support of his ministry, which is willing to work with them to iron out the many issues facing the sector. "You've found a partner in me. Let's work together to change the sector day after day," he insisted.
Meanwhile, Reginald Grant, coordinator of the National Praedial Larceny Prevention Programme, challenged the farmers to take a greater interest in their welfare by investing time and energy in making it harder for thieves to prey on them. Grant pointed to the need for farmers to get registered, get verified and use the receipt-book system, which is central to traceability in the event of theft.
Grant expressed disappointment at the snail pace of registration, expressing the view that this suggested that farmers were not doing nearly enough to help themselves, or help the police to help them. He told the meeting: "My last update in June of this year is that 5,745 farmers are registered with 3,259 or 56 per cent verified. In St Mary, 269 farmers are registered with 76 or 28 per cent verified. This is unacceptable and much more needs to be done."
Grant encouraged farmers to work along with the AIBGA so they can utilise a central market, which would sell their produce easier and allow them to get back to their farms. In addition to praedial larceny, banana farmers also have to contend with recent increases in the price of fertiliser and other input costs.