Mon | Aug 15, 2022

Combating the menace of farm theft

Published:Monday | June 22, 2020 | 12:24 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
Praedial larceny losses in Jamaica are estimated to reach J$6 billion annually.
Praedial larceny losses in Jamaica are estimated to reach J$6 billion annually.

I read and reread a copy of Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw’s contribution to the 2020 Sectoral Debate under the theme: ‘Securing opportunities ... stimulating sustainable growth for bigger, better, stronger industries’, and was disappointed but not surprised that there was not one line about plans to cauterise the demoralising and devastating scourge of farm theft.

I find it incredulous that even though he saluted the over 230,000 small farmers of Jamaica, over 20,000 fisherfolk as well as large investors in the agricultural sector, for their contributions, Minister Shaw failed to address the number one deterrent to lifting agricultural production and production – farm theft.

That glaring omission is an indication of the disdain, contempt and downright disregard that successive political administrations continue to pay to efforts of our farmers, fishers and agro-processers. For how could the minister, quoting from an annual report with contained details of the work of the 32 agencies and 31 divisions that constitute the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, not have anything to say about the most consistently profitable agricultural subsector – praedial larceny.

Praedial larceny is a term I prefer not to use when speaking about the theft of bananas, the slaughter of pregnant heifers or hogs which have been vaccinated against some disease, or goats which have been given a drench and thereafter end up on the consumers’ table. It cannot, or should not, be beyond the ken of the authorities to understand the very serious threats to public health which this ongoing courtship with disaster presents.

COMPLICIT

On June 10, chief executive officer of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), Peter Thompson, accused public-health inspectors across the island of being complicit in facilitating the sale of animal carcasses which they knew were of stolen animals.

“It is a cultural practice and it resides within the community, and the community persons know who the culprits are ... I want to also indicate that there are culprits within the Ministry of Health who presume to be using their stamp to stamp meat that was stolen,” the RADA head declared during a virtual town hall meeting hosted by the Praedial Larceny Prevention Unit within the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.

“This was made known to us at a point in time when DSP (Kevin) Francis was head of the praedial larceny unit. He made mention of that,” Thompson admitted.

Despite being armed with this inside information, it is unclear whether RADA or Francis, who was appointed head of the farm-theft unit in 2015, pursued any cases against the public-health inspectors who are tasked with inspecting and passing all meat for sale to the public as fit for human consumption

Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Clifford Blake, speaking on the same programme, admitted that despite mounting evidence that farmers are often killed while trying to stop the theft of their crops and livestock, the police continue to treat farm theft as a trivial matter.

“I have seen the correlation between violence and praedial larceny. I remember a pig farmer who was murdered in Lakes Pen. I also remember in St Catherine down at Bushy Park a farmer who was murdered when thieves were trying to steal his cattle and he went out. It has happened several times in Clarendon where farmers were murdered in defence of their animals. It has become an organised crime, it supports organised criminal activities,” the senior policeman said.

Also taking part on the programme, president of the Red Poll Cattle Breeders Society, Martin Hopwood, was clearly not impressed by the recommendations for addressing praedial larceny, which has cost Jamaican farmers an estimated $5-$6 billion each year.

NOT A JOKE BUSINESS

“This is not a joke business and unless the police take it seriously and the Government take is seriously, all the talk about food security is gone with the wind. The reason why only 22 cases of praedial larceny have been reported (since the start of the year) is because the farmers are fed up, they can’t bother go to the police because they only wasting their time, they not getting any results. It’s a serious matter and unless we approach it in a very serious way, we not going make any headway,” Hopwood, who spends J$3 million a year on security for his farm, bluntly declared.

Despite this admission by Thompson, as well as the disclosure by DCP Blake about how a once peaceful vocation had evolved into a dangerous and life-threatening experience, it is mind-boggling that the minister with portfolio responsibility for agriculture, Audley Shaw, could so blatantly ignore the fact that praedial larceny is a major deterrent to investment in agriculture. What will it take, I wonder, to open the eyes and minds of those entrusted with ‘Securing opportunities ... stimulating sustainable growth for bigger, better, stronger industries’ to the stark, harsh realities of this most vile scourge? How many more farmers will have to be slaughtered while defending their homes and livelihoods? How many more of their spouses will have to be left heartbroken or their children to drop out of school and join the ranks of the ‘unattached’, triggering, in many cases, intergenerational poverty?

Sadly, the answer is the same as it was in 1963, as articulated Bob Dylan when he sang:

Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry?

Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take ‘til he knows

That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Christopher Serju is an agriculture, environment and rural affairs reporter. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com.