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Zero tolerance for farm bandits



Have you ever stopped to think that the mango you took time out to carefully select and buy in the market last week or the week before was a stolen mango, or that the ribs you had for Sunday lunch may actually be that from an animal stolen from a poor farmer who still awaits the homecoming of his animal?

Taking it even further, one would not like to think that that fruit was actually set to catch a thief. I have nothing against eating fruits, but these questions are real for all consumers. As a child, I always thought that on visits to the beach, those who advocated that one should not purchase mangoes from “the man” who seemingly does not own any sort of cultivation was actually being harsh. {{more}}However, after speaking to the farmers who are suffering at the hands of thieves my views on the issue have changed drastically.

This week’s article is intended to allow you to have a real appreciation of some of the strategies planned to solve the problem of praedial larceny, which comprises ideas from the Police Department, the Ministry of Legal Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, and most importantly our farmers. The ideas are wide ranging.

Firstly, the national consultations with the farmers have attracted roughly 700 persons to date. It was interesting to note that just over 2% of the farmers attending thought that the only way to address the problem is to return to Moses Law. To listen to a call for a reintroduction of Moses’ Law: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” or a leg for an animal, this mirrors the present frustration in our farmers. One such call came from a farmer 75 years old whose only means of financial support are his wax apple trees. He recorded that, once, he picked four cases of wax apples and waited in the front of his yard for some sort of transportation, when the transport arrived and he went to the back of his yard for the produce they were all gone. Now that may be sufficient to drive anyone to call for a reintroduction of Moses Law. The grief is understandable. However, we must devise more modern ways of dealing with the problem.

One of the strongest points being raised was the call for the establishment of a system of receipts, which will show the change in ownership at all stages for all goods. Therefore, when a farmer sells his produce he should give a receipt showing that he was paid for the produce or that they were credited, and that the goods were handed over to the purchaser. This receipt or a copy of such must be given to the transporter of the produce. This is to ensure that in cases where stop and searches of transport are done, that the driver can give proper account for all the produce onboard. It has been recognized that if the authorities can intercept the transporting of these suspected stolen goods that this would go a very long way in solving the problem. Most farm thieves do not own a personal means of transport so some responsibility must be placed on all public transporters. It has been already noted that most of the stolen produce is transported before Friday for Friday morning market, and that the same trend is continued for Saturday morning market.

Further, there was a constant call for legislation that will entail heavier penalties for the thieves and buyers of stolen goods. It appears that the list of alleged buyers of stolen goods mainly comprised butchers, supermarkets, hotels, traffickers of produce for export and housewives. What is interesting however, is that many of the buyers may not be aware that the goods they purchase are actually stolen. Hence there is a difference here between those who knowingly handle stolen goods and those who really did not know. It was suggested that a higher duty be placed on the buyers of all produce. Housewives were strongly criticized since they were seen as a ready market for thieves to sell their produce to.

There was also a call for better compensation for farmers when someone is found guilty of stealing their produce. Farmers are suggesting that not only the value of the item be paid, but there must also be attached to the value the opportunity cost incurred by the farmer, and the cost for all the labor and fertilizer which may have been used to bring the good to fruition.

The farmers stressed the need for increased policing of the problem. At least, the men who sell stolen produce from the “buckets” must not feel safe to walk the villages and do their illegitimate business. They must always be on the run, and off the main. This will act as a very good deterrent. It was a recurring point that drug addicts steal produce to support their drug addiction and that they form a large proportion of the thieves. The mentally insane who may be undergoing rehabilitation also seem to be heavily involved in the theft. It was clear that the group involving the drug addicts, and the mentally insane in many instances overlap since for the most part drug addiction was the cause of their mental failure.

Some farmers also suggested that a central place in each community be earmarked where all transaction of animal and farm produce is done. This business should only be conducted between the hours of 6am and 5pm. This will ensure that farmers at least get a chance to see exactly what is being sold from each area. The logistics and practicability of this would, however, have to be carefully studied.

The Ministry of Agriculture also made a strong proposal to continue the certification and registration of all farmers. One advantage of this is that this identification can be used to verify whether or not someone is a farmer. The tattooing and registration of all animals including their full description are, also, other means of security that the Ministry has suggested.

These were a few of the suggestions. We must now concentrate on the best means of implementation.