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'We need severe penalties'

Published:Thursday | April 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dwight Bellanfante, Gleaner Writer

THE INSISTENCE of some to reap what they have not sown continues to frustrate farmers and the police in Manchester, even as many in that parish make a determined effort to grow their way to success.

Praedial thieves have fine-tuned their operation to the point where they move entire crops, and existing preventative measures such as the receipt-book system appear to have little effect. "I have lost an entire crop of oranges from my farm, they simply waited till we had picked and bagged them and took it away," relates Ivan Green, chairman of the Christiana Potato Growers' Association.

He notes that many farmers have lost hundreds of pounds of produce from their fields and greenhouses. The criminals are also having other deleterious effects on agriculture, including pushing up the cost of produce, as in the case of the Christiana Potato Growers, where they have had to hire a security firm to guard their operation at a significant cost which must be passed on.

Not tough enough

"We need severe penalties, the existing (ones) are not nearly tough enough ... 10 or so days in prison and the man is back on the street ... that is no disincentive," quips J.O. Minott, managing director of Jamaica Standard Products Co Ltd, a leading producer of coffee and coffee products.

The perspectives came during last week's Gleaner Editors' Forum in the parish at the Golf View Hotel in the capital of Mandeville.

Green believes that the ineffectual nature of the penalties is what is driving farmers to exact jungle justice in a bid to thwart the criminals. He notes that the reputed 20 per cent increase in production recorded by Manchester could have been significantly higher without the intervention of praedial larceny.

The Ministry of Agriculture is claiming increased gross output of 23.1 per cent for the entire agricultural sector for the fourth quarter of 2009, while preliminary estimates indicate that there was also a 13 per cent growth in the sector last year. Figures from the Data Bank and Evaluation Division of the Ministry of Agriculture reveal that the domestic crop subsection recorded a 33.5 per cent increase in production for the fourth quarter of 2009, and a 22.4 per cent increase for the year. These figures are especially encouraging as they were achieved despite the intervention of protracted drought conditions islandwide and difficult economic circumstances.

Meanwhile, assistant superintendent of police in Manchester, Llamar Clarke, notes that while it was not possible to replicate on Manchester farms the CCTV system which was proving effective in the town of Mandeville better coordination between the police and farmers could possibly help make some inroads in the problem of praedial larceny.