Christopher Serju, Gleaner Serju
Jamaica has failed for decades to address in any meaningful way the growing scourge of farm theft, more popularly known as praedial larceny. However, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has in its possession a comprehensive study financed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which offers a number of recommendations for arresting this devastating crime.
In fact, according to the study conducted among regional stakeholders in 2010, praedial larceny has been recognised at the highest level of leadership in CARICOM, as one of the constraints to successful implementation of the Regional Transformation Programme for Agriculture. Some 90 per cent of persons interviewed agree that praedial larceny is the single most discouraging aspect of agriculture, a major disincentive to investment and a threat to livelihoods in farming and fishing communities. Still, it continues to thrive with no apparent end in sight.
The news gets worse with the study stating that on average 82 per cent of farmers and fishers 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.
Comprehensive in nature, the document is alarming for its recognition of the far-reaching and not so obvious long-term devastating impact which often extends to future generations. For example, it states: "Conservative estimates reveal that the loss resulting from praedial larceny in crops, livestock, and fresh and marine fish is in the region of US$321 million annually or an estimated 17.9 per cent of region's agricultural output. This does not take into account the future loss to agricultural productivity as high-quality genetic breeds of livestock and crop varieties are stolen from breeding stations and agricultural 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 in terms of persons and families who are affected."
As in Jamaica, across the region, there is a failure to recognise the deep-rooted social and economic consequences with members of the police and judiciary, key players in the fight against farm theft, seemingly unaware of the extent to which it has long moved from being a petty crime to a very serious offence.
For this reason, sanctions handed down in the courts are often inappropriate, inadequate and most definitely not a deterrent. Frustrated by the long delays in court cases, farmers no longer take an interest in reporting cases, with only an estimated 45 per cent of farm theft reported to the police.
Ja lagging behind
While the strengthening of policy and legislative frameworks has been recognised as pivotal to prevention and reduction, Jamaica continues to lag in this regard. Also, its failure to implement a comprehensive national traceability system continues to effectively feed this monster.
However, a receipt-book system similar to the one used in Jamaica which has been dogged by controversy since its inception is recommended for review in all CARICOM member state where it is in use. In this area, Jamaica seems be well ahead of the rest of the region, given the suggestion that a system which allows the farmer registration ID to follow the produce to the point of consumer purchase be instituted.