Phyllis Thomas, Enterprise Editor
Once again agriculture is called upon to grow the economy, and once again the monster called praedial larcency must be tamed.
The Government has come up with yet another plan to put an end to the activities of praedial thieves. All spotlights will be turned on large establishments such as supermarkets and abattoirs to sever the lifeline from the elusive predators of Jamaican farms.
Thieves have relieved farmers of their crops and livestock with impunity and although no claim is being made about who are the possible buyers of the stolen goods, estimated at $5 billion annually, the general perception is that it is inconceivable that small higglers can inconspicuously dispose of truck-loads of perishable farm produce. Nor is it likely that a small butcher can easily get rid of 300 head of goats and sheep stolen from a farmer in one night, or provide the cold storage facility when the animals are butchered.
Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, told The Gleaner that along with the Trade Board, and other relevant agencies, the ministry will launch a joint operation targeting these big businesses.
He admitted that they did not know for sure who the buyers are, however, he said, in the next phase of the push against praedial larceny, "We are going to target the largest establishments, working with the Trade Board and the Ministry of Health to set it up." But, Stanberry said, "We can't reveal much about it now."
The head civil servant in the agriculture ministry said existing legistation requires that in addition to farmers' registration, traders and dealers are to get licences as well. And "we are going to activate it. While the burden is on the farmers and those trucking the produce, the same requirement is on the traders."
Although they are not revealing any details of this latest effort to make farm theft unattractive, the ministry has already met with stakeholders in this newest initiative.
In May 2011, the ministry partnered with the health and national security ministeries in a drive to combat farm theft.
The then Minister of National Security, Dwight Nelson, was quoted in a Gleaner article as describing it as not just an economic concern but a national security issue as well. In the same article, Dr Christopher Tufton, who was minister of agriculture and fisheries said, "It has evolved into a level of deviant behaviour where men, or whoever, drive up on farms in trucks with high-powered weapons and literally clean out fish ponds, clean out livestock pastures, cut down loads of bananas, and I could go and on."