Multiple strategies are required to deal with the troubling issue of praedial larceny that has been affecting farmers across the country. Projects Coordinator within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs, Gregory Bailey, said although these incidents have been occurring since time immemorial, it is not too late to implement certain initiatives which can help to curtail them in a major way.
Bailey addressed the issue in an interview with the Communications Department within the Ministry of Agriculture. He noted that the severity of the praedial larceny problem may not be fully recognized, since many of the incidents go unreported.
Bailey pointed out that, apart from the criminal aspect of this practice, there are other serious implications which can have a long term impact on society. “It has a number of implications apart from the issue of crime, which we don’t want any part of in our society.
There is also an economic issue, as well as a food safety issue,” he remarked. On the food safety issue, the agriculture projects coordinator said although the chemicals which the famers use (in accordance with manufacturers` guidelines) are generally safe, there is more to be considered.
The interval period between application of chemical and when the produce can be harvested must be carefully considered, and persons committing praedial larceny are usually not privy to this information. “Persons who steal from farms would have no idea when the farmers apply these chemicals. So at any point in time when they enter the farms to remove these produce illegally, they are not only risking their own health by entering the field which may have just been treated, but they are also endangering the lives of persons they are selling the produce to which they will eventually consume.”
According to Bailey, there is a perception among farmers that the police are not taking agricultural reports of theft serious enough unless the culprits are caught red handed.
He believes the Ministry of Agriculture and the police can work closer together to come up with more innovative ways to conduct field investigations of this nature. The agricultural expert also calls for greater sensitization among members of the public about these recent acts of farm theft, as this may lead to the offenders being stuck with produce by not getting them sold.
A reduction in demand for black market produce will see an equal reduction in the supply. “If the persons who steal the produce don’t have anybody to sell them to, that in and of itself would help to fight against the whole issue of praedial larceny.”
He suggested that the best security that can be extended to the farming sector is what he calls “collective security”. He maintains that once a huge number of farmers are regularly producing in a given agricultural settlement area, the chances of praedial larceny become minimal.
“Because you have people coming at different times of the day and each one looking out for the other, this would narrow down the field to contain any potential thief. An additional benefit to having all agricultural lands under production is that it provides less overgrowth for perpetrators to hide themselves or their stolen produce.”
According to Bailey, the fruit tree and livestock producers are the ones who usually feel the impact more than the vegetable farmers. The types of crops that thieves usually target, according to Bailey, are the ones they can move with in large amounts quickly, such as coconuts, bananas and pumpkin, etc, and not the smaller crops like cherries, as they would have to spend more time harvesting, thus increasing the risk of getting caught.
He was asked about time pattern of attack, but Bailey said the thieves are becoming bolder, as they descend on farms at any time of the day. The use of cell phones to communicate with each while making the hit is also a popular trend.
Bailey was asked to respond to the view that some farmers need to do more to protect their own farms, but he said that going to certain extreme measures to do so could increase the cost to the consumers. “Every time a farmer invests in his farm in any way, it increases the cost of production and ultimately that cost of production may have to be passed on to the consumer.
Fencing is always a good idea because you have roaming livestock and so forth, so you may want to fence if you can afford it.” Hiring security and installing cameras were other suggestions, but the cost factor comes into play. Public/private sector partnership is critical, he said, adding that government may have to consider introducing stiffer penalties for this offence.