Stronger action needed to stop crop theft
A St Philip farm manager, whose business has been a repeated target of crop thieves, is not totally moved by the recent spate of arrests.
Richard Armstrong, general manager of Sunbury, St Philip-based Armag Farms, says police need to go undercover to public markets where he alleges stolen produce is openly sold every week.
Armstrong told Barbados TODAY the recently jailed culprits were part of an organized group which was wreaking havoc on local farming.
He estimated that Armag has been losing around $100,000 annually because of crop theft.
Armstrong said 90 per cent of the people being sent to prison for crop theft have been there before for the same reason.
The farm manager said he was aware that one of the men jailed last week admitted that stealing crops was what he did for a living.
“So much so that sometimes he comes out of prison and he would send a message by one of my tractor drivers to ‘tell Mr. Armstrong I back out’. So moving these fellas off the street may help, but they are only small players in the game.”
Armstrong strongly suggested that undercover police officers also go into the markets and other areas where the stolen produce could be found on the stalls of some vendors.
Quite often, he said, stolen crops would be sold at a cheaper price than what a legitimate vendor would sell them for.
“We are told by vendors that almost every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, there are stolen produce in the market selling at a lower price than what the legitimate vendor can sell the same product for. Police got to integrate themselves into the market,” Armstrong said.
The Armag official said over the years his team had put all the necessary security measures in place in an effort to keep the theft problem under control.
However, he explained it was an expensive venture as the farm spends approximately $70, 000 for private security annually because there are times when the sweet potato crop is too plentiful for in-house guards to watch.
“We can’t ever have potato fields that are mature without a presence in them at all times,” he stressed.
“And the [thieves] are watching you. The minute you leave one ground to go and check on another, they would run in and dig two bags of potatoes by the time you come back.
“If a security guard leaves to get something to drink, within half hour, three or (more) fellas move in and steal up to $1,000 in sweet potatoes easy,” Armstrong added. (AH)