MINISTER of Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green says praedial larceny continues to be a growing concern and that there will be a zero-tolerance approach going forward, and that offenders can expect to face the full brunt of the law.
The minister, in pointing to a number of high-profile arrests in recent weeks involving the theft and recovery of livestock, told JIS News that praedial larceny is one of the leading ills facing the farming sector.
“It is just plain wrong and immoral for farmers to put their all… hard-earned money and loans… into planting and nurturing their crops, only to have it stolen by heartless criminals,” he said.
“We have been hearing the complaints loud and clear and we have laws on the books that will be enforced… That I can promise,” Green added.
The minister’s position has received the backing of other stakeholders, including the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) Chief Executive Officer Peter Thompson, who argued that praedial larceny has been thriving for far too long and has been driving a lot of hard-working farmers out of the sector.
“We have to ensure that our farmers reap what they grow,” Thompson told a group of farmers in Westmoreland on October 9.
“Please be reminded that under the Agricultural Produce Act, every person carrying on the trade or business of growing or rearing agricultural produce shall become registered with RADA. Farmers can be registered at any of the RADA parish offices,” he said.
Thompson also reiterated that, under the Act, no person shall carry on any highway or public road, any agricultural produce unless such produce is accompanied by a receipt.
“The receipt helps the police to verify whether the produce in transit is stolen or purchased. It also facilitates speedy dialogue between the police and farmers and assists in the apprehension of persons who steal agricultural produce,” he added.
Meanwhile, Minister Green, who has been embarking on a cross-country ‘Listening Tour’, meeting with farmers and fisherfolk to hear their concerns and suggestions on matters relating to their respective sectors, says praedial larceny has evolved from petty theft to a very sophisticated and organised criminal activity, which now “requires that same level of response”.
“It is very high on the farmer’s list of problems, as it now involves technology and some serious-minded criminals. It now relies on cellphones, trucks and other forms of transportation. It has become very profitable for criminals,” he said.
The minister adds that praedial larceny, which some estimates say has been costing farmers as much as $5 billion per year, often goes unreported, with many farmers simply resigning themselves to their loss and going back to starting all over.
Since 2015, the Praedial Larceny Prevention Coordination Unit was re-established with a mandate to reduce the number of praedial larceny-related cases across the island.
The unit has conducted numerous operations in collaboration with the Jamaica Constabulary Force, including urging farmers to register with RADA and to issue receipts for the sale of their agricultural produce.
Receipt books can be purchased at any Jamaica Agricultural Society office. The produce receipt provides a means of traceability at all stages along the value chain and helps the police to verify whether the produce in transit is stolen or legally purchased.
For their part, several local farmers have commended Minister Green and his team for embarking on the ‘Listening Tour’, noting that it offered them a unique opportunity to air their grouses and to brainstorm on ways to make the sector more beneficial to stakeholders.
“I personally love the approach that is being taken by Minister Green,” said Portland farmer Renford Davis.
“There can be nothing more effective than meeting with the true stakeholders and where we can find true solutions to the problems… and to continue to provide food for the Jamaican people,” he said.
Farmer Samantha Johnson, who hails from St Ann, said farmers often times have to stay up late at nights “watching over their crops and animals”.
“We have to think long and hard about leaving our farms for any length of time, as the thieves are constantly watching our every move. I love the fact that the Government seems very committed to address this problem where farmers can now go to work knowing that we have the authorities watching our backs. That’s as good a feeling that I have had in a very long time,” she added.