Christopher Serju, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Bananas and plantains are coming back in St Mary after the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, but thieves are the ones reaping most of the crop.
Farmers in the eastern parish who lost their all to the hurricane are again hurting because of the thieves.
According to Grethel Sessing, chairman of the All-Island Banana Growers' Association (AIBGA), the devastating impact of the thieves is worse than a natural disaster.
"I say they are worse than hurricanes because that is something natural but that (praedial larceny) is man made and while you can get the drive to pick up from natural disasters, when you go six weeks in a row to your farm and praedial thieves reap before you, you can't plan - it's like a dead end," said Sessing, who operates a banana/plantain farm in St Mary.
She told The Sunday Gleaner that thieves stole between 130 and 150 bunches of mature bananas and plantains over the past six weeks, leaving her devastated and frustrated.
Sessing noted that the thieves are so organised they make light of the security systems, citing a case of theft on her farm, which took place at 9:30 on a Tuesday morning, while workers were going about their jobs..
Another St Mary farmer, Manassah Williams who cultivates six acres of plantain in Robin's Bay, was particularly hard hit when thieves raided his farm just over one week ago while he was attending church.
In addition to stealing at least 10 bunches, the criminals went on a rampage, cutting down most of other bearing trees and chopping the fruits to pieces. They then set fire to the shed where he stores farm supplies and equipment.
Williams, who reported the matter to the Islington police, said upon returning to his field last Tuesday, he found that more plantains had been stolen.
He said farm theft is rampant in the area and is being carried out by a group of youngsters, with higglers buying from them at discounted prices, knowing full well that the produce is stolen.
The senior citizen told The Sunday Gleaner that the latest round of theft had disrupted plans to start buying books and other school supplies for his son and grandchild.
"Do sah, do unnu try help we because if we come out a farming what we ago do? Me a 71-year-old and a do mi farming and the youth them a tief it out. It can't work," lamented Williams.
Over in Highgate, Hopeton Skeen is just about ready to give up, as the thieves have left him with very little to show for all his hard work and money spent.
"Is like me wasting me time because me can't put food pon me table because of the thief them," the plantain farmer shared with The Sunday Gleaner.
Skeen is particularly puzzled by how well the thieves seem to know every area of his property and the state of readiness of each plant, reaping just ahead of him, every time.
Meanwhile, Sessing is incensed by the disregard with which farm theft is treated in the courts.
She charged that judges are continuing to treat praedial larceny as a petty crime, seemingly unaware of the far-reaching economic fallout and hardship it causes.
"There is no deterrent because they get suspended sentences. They are not imprisoned, not made to pay. So therefore, it is very easy for them to go back and repeat the crime and where it's impacting farmers is their inability to repay their loans.
"Because, if you borrow money to resuscitate your fields and you can't reap, can you tell me how they are going to be servicing their loans? So, it is a serious thing and as we continue to say it is impacting agriculture on a whole, but I know right now it is really hurting banana/plantain farmers too."
In the meantime, Corporal Orette Richards of the Islington Police Station admitted that despite regular patrols in Robin's Bay and adjoining farming communities, they have not been able to catch the thieves.
In fact, the police maintain a strong presence in the area especially on the days when higglers come to buy produce from farmers, but to no avail.
Richards admitted that even in cases where the police suspect rogue farmers of selling produce in excess of what their holdings can produce, they have no way of verifying the source of origin of the goods.
This, as vendors are issued with legitimate receipts and their investigations usually uncover a solid paper trail, with no grounds for arrests.