Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
THE RECOMMENDATION by the president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Norman Grant, for the establishment of a farm-theft registry - for persons convicted of stealing farm produce - is the latest proposal aimed at stemming the problem.
If Grant has his way, the pictures of persons convicted of stealing livestock and/or crops would be plastered across newspapers and broadcast on television, with details of their misdeeds outlined, as part of a national strategy to hobble repeat offenders.
In addition, he plans to lobby for the establishment of a victim-compensation fund.
This call by the JAS president, who also wants to see harsher penalties imposed on praedial thieves, is just one of the many put forward over the years, most of which have failed to yield the desired results.
The jury is still out on the receipt-book system, which has been mired in controversy with proponents saying that it is the only way to go, while those against argue that it puts too much burden of proof on a person who accepts the gift of a few fruits or vegetables from a farmer friend.
In addition to regular policing, successive administrations have developed dedicated strategies for curbing praedial larceny with very little to show by way of success. In 1982, agricultural wardens were appointed on a contractual basis to assist the police in the prevention and detection of farm theft. The wardens were given powers to search and arrest and to seize goods believed to be stolen.
Four years later, the Agricultural Wardens Scheme was replaced by the Authorised Wardens Scheme, with applicants undergoing a rigorous selection process before being specially trained to apprehend farm thieves. However, the programme was soon abandoned due to its ineffectiveness.
As the cost of policing praedial larceny grows, the losses suffered by farmers continue to grow exponentially, with their toil benefiting only the thieves who continue to prove over time that they have a greater appreciation of the theory of evolution by natural selection as expounded by 19th-century English naturalist Charles Darwin.
Grant said: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."
CALLS FOR ACTION MOUNT
By 1998, the National Praedial Larceny Programme was launched in the wake of persistent calls for something to be done and farmers demanding the right to arms in wake of the State's inability to protect farms from predators.
With the leaders of commodity boards and representatives from the ministries of agriculture, national security and justice attending the national symposium on praedial larceny, farmers were led to believe that the promised overhaul of the relevant laws turn the tide against praedial thieves.
A subsequent amendment of the Agricultural Produce Act to facilitate the official registration of farmers - with information on the location and size of their property, as well as the description and quantity of goods produced - was touted as the way to go.
Despite some measure of success, praedial larceny continues to thrive.