It is the scourge of farmers everywhere. Imagine awakening one morning to discover that months, even years of hard work is gone or destroyed; fields of crops stolen or valuable livestock taken and slaughtered.
For some local farmers this has been a stark reality. Praedial larceny, that is, the theft or vandalism of agricultural produce and or livestock, has plagued the sector for years, with many farmers at wits end as to how to protect their goods and livelihood.
During the Ministry of Agriculture’s Town Hall Meetings earlier this year, praedial larceny was cited as one of the major challenges impacting the growth of the agricultural sector in Barbados, with many farmers clamoring for Government to introduce legislation to combat this increasing threat. There was also concern by the farming community that Barbadians do not take praedial larceny as seriously as other criminal activity.
Legislation is already ‘on the books’ which deals with crop and livestock theft - the Praedial Larceny Prevention Act CAP 142A. Agricultural officials maintain that the law, which was proclaimed in 1992, may be a strong deterrent to thieves, however, there is a need for enforcement.
This point was underscored by Agricultural Minister, Dr. David Estwick, during a recent press conference at his Ministry. Describing praedial larceny as the “Achilles heel” of the agricultural sector across the world, he said the problem could not be solved without the support of the entire Barbadian community.
He stressed, however, that the police and law courts must come down hard on those who are involved in praedial larceny. According to the Minister, farmers, the church and the community have to impress upon law enforcement officials the serious nature of such offenses.
“Stealing is an illegal act, and such an act therefore, brings in the police and the court. Stealing is not a Ministry of Agriculture issue but the police and the courts. How many people get prosecuted for stealing people’s produce in Barbados? What needs to happen is enforcement…If you go down to town and steal a T-shirt, quickly the police are there but if you go and steal two cassavas nothing happens,” he lamented.
Dr. Estwick revealed that with the amended Praedial Larceny Bill, the Ministry was seeking to establish a squad which would patrol farming districts severely impacted by praedial larceny.
The Ministry of Agriculture is actively exploring and considering a number of other strategies aimed at deterring crop and livestock thieves. These include the establishment of a National Identification Programme to detect and license all bona fide traders in agricultural produce, the introduction of a traceability system that can track the movement of goods from the farm to the table and the issuance of Certificates of Purchase.
A public sensitization and education programme is also being discussed since some farmers and consumers are unaware of the legislation, and how to effectively use the law to safeguard their livelihood.
Crop and livestock theft have serious implications not only for the individual farmer but for the larger farming community and the agriculture sector.
It constitutes a loss of livelihood and income to farmers and those losses threaten the viability and profitability of farming enterprises. Praedial larceny also hinders the development of the sector as the farming community becomes discouraged; and theft hampers the country’s efforts to improve food security as disillusioned farmers exit the sector, thus increasing the strain on the national food supply.
In some cases, farmers and their families have also faced threats to their lives. With regard to public health, “unlawfully harvesting” or stealing crops which may have been sprayed with a harmful chemical during cultivation or eating tainted meat may cause sickness.
While the Ministry of Agriculture continues to play its part in the fight against praedial larceny, the farming community and consumers must remain vigilant to ensure the incidence of theft is decreased and thieves are caught.
This may be achieved by starting a neighbourhood watch in farming communities or rural areas; being friendly and helpful to neighbours - as a community that helps one another is more likely to look out for each other; installing a fence around the perimeter of the farm; and by installing security cameras on key buildings or at entrances to the farm, (some farmers even install in the field).
Farmers are also encouraged to take a drive around the farm at random times to monitor activity or hire security; monitor and report any trespassers or unknown vehicles on the farm and, where possible, keep any farm building or roads to farm land well lit.
Consumers should also ensure there is no market for stolen produce and that their health is safeguarded by purchasing crops or meat from reputable vendors and suppliers, particularly as crops might have been treated with chemical sprays or the animal may have a disease.
Praedial larceny is a worrying issue which threatens the livelihood of the farming community; their hard work and daily toil gone in an instant through the callous, criminal acts of a few.
It is the responsibility of all stakeholders – government, the legal system and law enforcement officials, farmers and consumers - to work together to tackle the scourge of crop and livestock theft. Failure to do so could seriously undermine any efforts to boost Barbados’ food production, feed its growing population and promote a food secure future.
(A BGIS NEWS FEATURE)