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Zero tolerance for farm bandits

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Part 1

The Book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 11, instructs that, “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap”. I would not make mischief of the scriptures if I attempt to replace the word “wind” with “thieves” since the object of this verse simply, is to show that if you are bent on looking at the negatives you would not move forward. Today, our farmers have had to deal with: unprotected markets for export produce; the sting of pests and weeds; the untoward wrath of the natural elements particularly the wind; low prices in some instances halved with a call for better quality; and what I consider to be the worst of them all the “farm bandits”. {{more}}This list is not exhaustive since farmers have to deal with all the other problems which life throws at us all.

I prefer to use the word “bandit” to describe a person who in the past was referred to as a common farm thief. This is justified since the expertise that the stealing of farm produce presently involves, cannot be equated to anything we have witnessed as a people in the past.

It is clear that the problem is deep-seated, and it is one that stretches over many decades. It appears that the thieves over time have developed well-orchestrated ways of going about their illegal doings. From many reports, farm thieves today, for the most part, are well armed and dangerous. The thieves have developed a lucrative and complex system of trade, which includes bartering among thieves, the renting of vehicles to transport stolen goods, and the strategic use of technology be it the cellular phone or otherwise to keep a step ahead of both the police and our hard working farmers. This is not only unbecoming, but devastating.

A trend has been set which if allowed to escalate can have serious repercussions for the future of farming and the families of farmers. The efforts of the Government so far in finding a solution to this problem has been forthright and it appears that the stressed line of zero tolerance is taking resonance.

Over the past two weeks it has been a pleasure working closely with the Commissioner of Police, the Assistant Commission of Police, the Chief Agricultural Officer and other technical expertise from the Ministry of Agriculture and the farmers throughout Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in addressing the problem of praedial larceny or the theft of agricultural produce.

So far, consultations have attracted farmers in and around Georgetown, South Rivers, Mesopotamia, Fitz Hughes, North Union, Barrouallie, and Biabou. This national effort has given the farmers an opportunity to share some of their deepest sentiments on the issue along with a few other problems affecting them. Each evening it was really interesting to note the massive turnout and high levels of participation. The farmers have stated that the problem has gone so far out of proportion that they are actually fearful to farm. It has been the case where one woman in South Rivers reported that she has had to leave some fourteen acres of land to lay fallow.

Because of increased stealing of her produce, farming was no longer profitable for her. What sort of returns can our livestock farmers be allowed to make if they have to hide to graze their animals? One farmer noted emphatically that not even under your bed is your “ram sheep” safe. This should not be.

The negative economic implications of mass stealing for both national development and rural economic growth cannot be stated as less than devastating. With the high levels of widespread theft leading to general discouragement, many farmers have rested their implements and are seeking alternative means of employment. We do not want impoverishment of our people because of thieves. If more farmers are discouraged this has the potential to shock the entire social system, in that there can be expected to be increased levels of dependency resulting in increased unemployment, and the many social problems which are associated with such.

It is clear that the problem must be dealt with holistically, using all the resources at our disposal, together with a careful study of the bandits to attempt to stem this most dishonest and illegal tide.

I am always proud to say I am the son of a farmer and a housewife. It was after obtaining a Banana Growers’ Association Scholarship that I successfully began my post-primary education. If all the farmers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines become discouraged by bandits or the wind and discontinue farming I cannot begin to imagine the implications.

Without a doubt, most Vincentians are law-abiding citizens, but there are a few bandits among us who have very little conscience and are intent on crime. In addressing the problems farmers must first ensure their personal safety. Farmers must not allow the thieves to win by allowing fear to get the better of them. The innocent must band together and work towards a common solution. We will give our farmers a renewed sense of hope. We have heard clearly from the thieves, they must now hear from us. Next week’s article will explain some of the strategies planned to solve the problem.

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