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Cracking down on praedial larceny

Farming is a notoriously uncertain business. Weather, plant and animal diseases, and the availability of a ready market can make the difference between a farmer sinking or swimming.

Referring to drought-prone southern St. Elizabeth, former Member of Parliament for South East St Elizabeth Mr Len Blake says: “Sometimes you go into it and you lose your money, some people are lucky and make some money, some people are not so lucky, we are in a drought-stricken area and it’s not easy.”

Of course, being a fairly successful farmer himself, Blake will know that luck or no luck farming, just like any other venture, requires careful planning and good judgement.

The fact is that, regardless of what we may think about it, farming will have to be one of the avenues through which Jamaica seeks to pull itself out of its long-standing economic quagmire.

Those with the courage and the know-how should be encouraged to farm for the domestic and export markets. That’s why it is so disheartening when there’s news such as that emanating from Goodwin, St. James, of the theft of 32 heifers worth $4 million from a cattle farm there.

It makes big news because of the size of the theft. But, of course, praedial larceny, as farm theft is so cutely termed in Jamaica, is an ongoing hazard – for farmers big and small of both crop and livestock – all across the land.

Some have simply given up as a result of the thievery. Many potential farmers have shied away from the enterprise because of the fear of being destroyed by those who would reap without having to sow.

In the words of Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, thieves have “made our farmers have sleepless nights”.

So what’s to be done? We believe the farmer registration and receipt book system introduced by Clarke in his previous dispensation as agriculture minister has helped to some degree.

And we agree with former Agriculture Minister Dr Chris Tufton that “traceability from the farm to fork” must be the goal, not only to ensure the achievement of required standards for an increasingly critical and sophisticated consumer market, but also as a hindrance to thieves.

But it seems to this newspaper that there has to be an integrated approach at all levels, including farmers, their communities, the police and the judiciary in dealing with criminals who target farm produce. What we are saying here is not new, but we have not had the impression of dedicated, integrated effort through neighbourhood and farm watch programmes, police action and, very importantly, appropriate court sentencing for those who prey on agriculture.

Farmers have for a long time been distressed by the sense that praedial larcenists are the butt of jokes rather than being treated as the destructive and dangerous criminals that they are.

In that respect, we like the push by Jamaica Agricultural Society President Senator Norman Grant for praedial larceny to be brought under the Proceeds of Crime Act, which would enable the seizure and disposal of ill-gotten assets as part of a compensation fund for victims.

The publishing and circulation in their communities and the wider society of the identity of convicted praedial thieves, also suggested by Senator Grant, could also be a powerful disincentive for such crimes, we believe.

It’s full time to get serious with those who so viciously seek to destroy agriculture.

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