Editorial | Making farm thieves pay
J.C. Hutchinson has been a consistent voice against praedial thieves who prey on hardworking famers in various communities across the island.
Besides being the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Hutchinson is himself a farmer, and he has repeatedly called for substantial fines to be levied against praedial thieves, as well as end users who knowingly buy stolen items.
We are taken aback that more members of parliament, especially those who represent farming communities, are not as strident in trying to arrest this evil practice that is threatening the lifeblood of so many rural communities.
Hutchinson told the 124th annual general meeting of the Jamaica Agricultural Society earlier this week that the Agriculture Produce Act is to be amended to ensure that farmers are compensated for their losses. And he is promising that this will come to pass before year’s end.
While noting that often the fines levied against these thieves was a slap on the wrist, he made this promise: “We going to put it in the Agricultural Produce Act that they must pay back the farmer the cost of whatever they have stolen on top of the fines that they are going to be charged. It is one that we not guessing and spelling about that before the end of the year, that will be in the act.”
While we admire Mr Hutchinson’s tenacity, we have to also acknowledge that unless the police make a special effort to apprehend and arrest more farm thieves, there will be no appreciable dent in this crime. For example, the police offer monetary rewards for information regarding specific crimes and perhaps one approach could be to include farm theft in the crimes that are highlighted from time to time.
Besides legislation, a new approach is necessary to apprehend these crooks who steal produce, livestock and even farm equipment and tools.
Many rural communities have felt the debilitating effects of these crooks, who are not afraid to plunder entire fields overnight.
During holiday seasons, there is usually a spike in the theft of goats since curried goat is a much-loved fare for celebrations. Full moon is also said to be a high-theft season as the thieves are better able to see their way around. Farmers have to be watchful during these periods.
The result of all this illicit activity is that some farmers, especially older ones, have given up because they are aware that they could be physically harmed if they try to stand up to the thieves.
Right now, Jamaica is experiencing very dry conditions, so it is anticipated that many farmers could be hit with losses. It would be simply devastating for them to also sustain losses from thieves.
Farms are a magnet for criminals, and just about any crop, from yams to vegetables and fruits, is plundered. It is not unusual, either, to see livestock being stolen and stuffed into cars much too small to transport them. Among the more troubled areas are St Elizabeth, Clarendon, Manchester and St Catherine.
Those who can afford to have resorted to CCTV cameras, which can be remotely monitored, but the small farmer who is trying to eke out a living for his family would not likely have the resources to acquire cameras and other surveillance equipment.
Vigilance and enforcement of the law are the weapons that will provide relief from rampaging thieves.