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Stealing agri produce costing Caribbean US$ millions; poses serious health risks

Consultant, Reuben Robertson delivering his presentation on praedial larceny.

Stealing  agricultural produce is costing the Caribbean millions of dollars annually and putting consumers at risk of being infected by diseases or poisoned by chemicals and drugs.

Consultant, Reuben Robertson told the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) 2014 being held in Paramaribo, Suriname authorities have been told that their arsenal of weapons to fight back must include the enforcement of tougher laws and the use of modern technology.

He added that thieves even go as far as carting off planting materials, fertilizers and farmers’ tools.  “We consider praedial larceny to be hitting at the core of the survival of agriculture in the region,” he told the event being held under the theme “Transforming Caribbean Agriculture through Family Farming.”  He lamented that such theft has resulted in foreclosure of homes that were used as collaterals, school drop-outs among poor families in the absence of fund. His presentation was made at the workshop on Policy and Strategy for Agricultural Revitalization and Food and Nutrition Security.

Saying that the phenomenon has worsened from petty crimes to entire acreages or livestock farms being cleaned out by larcenists “overnight,” the official described praedial larceny as the single largest disincentive to agriculture in the Caribbean.

Using 2009 World Bank statistics, he said that of the US$1.87 billion generated by agriculture in the Caribbean and US$1.35 billion in 2012 while praedial larceny accounted for 20 to 30 percent of those amounts.  A breakdown shows that such larceny accounted for US$16 million in The Bahamas, US$$300 million in Belize and US$2.3 million in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Health Impact

The former Vincentian Chief Agriculture Officer warned that stolen fruits, vegetables and livestock put consumers at risk of being infected by diseases such as leptospirosis from rat urine and tuberculosis from infected cattle. He explained that animals just treated with antibiotics, slaughtered and sold as meat could affect consumers; similarly crops sprayed with insecticides and fungicides. “I think it is one of the most deadly effects of praedial larceny,” he said.

Possible Solutions

He recommended that authorities and farmers implement systems to trace their produce and livestock by calculating estimated outputs for use as evidence during a probe in instances when farmers steal from their colleagues. Such a system, he said, would also require the registration of farmers combined with public awareness.  Eventually, he hopes that the Caribbean will be able to use DNA testing to match stolen crops and livestock with samples taken. Already, the Jamaica government is planning to use drones to track down thieves.  Family farmers, he suggested, would require community or neighbourhood watches or combine their resources to install surveillance cameras. Robertson, however, noted that many farmers know who are the thieves but are fearful of reporting them to the police. “In these communities, most of the people know who the thieves are. The problem is that most persons are afraid to go to the police because their lives are at risk,” he added.