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We cannot surrender to praedial larceny

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Tue, Dec 11, 2012

As Christmas draws nearer, more and more we hear concerns raised and complaints voiced over the continued prevalence of praedial larceny in our midst. It is not just a Christmas season problem, it has been with us, and with our neighbours in the Caribbean, for some time now. Progressively though, the situation has been getting worse, in spite of the actions of governments and a beefing up of legislation to deal with the matter.{{more}}

Governments throughout the region have either enacted Praedial Larceny legislation or amended those on the books, increasing the penalties for this illegal activity. This does not seem to have had any serious deterring effect and farmers continue to be at the mercy of these predators, many operating in broad daylight. The Minister of Agriculture in Barbados, Mr Roger Clarke, recently made his frustration plain for all to hear.

He described those who steal agricultural produce as being “a scourge on the land”, saying that “they have made our farmers have sleepless nights”. Praedial larceny, Mr Clarke said, “has now become a major economic activity … which is having a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of our country”.

We can say the same in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The losses of farmers and pastoralists are such that many persons have stopped rearing livestock and have restricted their agricultural activities. It is not easy to invest hard-earned dollars, to till the soil or rear animals, only for one’s produce to be reaped by others who have not lifted a finger in support.

Then, there is the wider spill-over effect that the Barbadian Minister described as “detrimental” to his country. Because of these losses, agricultural production has been declining, at a time when it should be moving in the opposite direction. This is undermining our food security and making us more dependent on food imports, thereby heightening our vulnerability. It also has the effect of driving up prices by reducing supply, making it harder for consumers. The price of locally-produced mutton is a very good illustration of this.

In addition to all this, praedial larceny is having a corrupting influence, drawing into its ambit traders, vendors, traffickers and persons in the hospitality sector who would not normally engage in such illegal activity. It is truly a “scourge” in our midst which must be eradicated.

We now need to determine how best to achieve this. As mentioned above, legislation has been enacted with varying effects and some new strategies employed. Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, launched an Agricultural Ranger Squad. But it went dormant after being described by that country’s Agriculture Minister as being “ineffective”. It has now been re-launched with plans for a force of some 200, trained by the Police and Defence Forces, and to be “deployed to safeguard farming communities frequented by thieves”.

Here in SVG, the Government has opted for rural constables, but that does not seem to have had any significant impact. It calls for a re-visiting of strategies, including developing the awareness and obtaining the co-operation of the general public. We simply cannot surrender to the threat.

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