Government is introducing a special class of enforcement officer – the agricultural inspector – in a move to effectively tackle praedial larceny or crop theft which is a longstanding headache for many local farmers.
According to Minister of Agriculture, Dr David Estwick, the inspectors will have legal authority to engage in any sector where farm produce is being sold and will be able to request evidence of ownership of such produce.
Delivering the feature address at the Barbados National Agricultural Conference today, Estwick said the inspectors were provided for in revamped praedial larceny legislation to go before Parliament shortly.
He said the legislation was redesigned to create and define areas where the old legislation was inadequate. For example, it includes a codified system to help with tracing farm produce which was a deficiency of the old legislation.
“Those persons [the agricultural inspectors] will make sure that you are able to provide under request your registration documentation, your certification documentation, so that it brings all those persons who are out there involved in the movement of agriculture products on a retail level, into a registration network and a network that allows for you to be able to define and clarify your relationship with the produce that you are selling,” he said.
The minister explained that by having these inspectors become part of the Ministry of Agriculture’s apparatus, the enforcement capacity of police officers to be able to act and carry out effective surveillance would be maximized.
Estwick explained: “We think this is an essential part of the piece of legislation that was missing. The old elements of the legislation that define all sales of agriculture produce have receipts associated with them and that is fine.
“But what we have done is we have strengthened that [provision so that] those that act as farmers at the level of the primary producer, will have a particular type of receipt book format that would be advanced from the Ministry.
“Those who are at the level of wholesalers and those who are retailing will also have a different type of receipt book structure and all of them will have proper codification systems. . .”
Estwick said he often listened to complaints on call-in programmes where callers voiced their opinions about crop theft on the island, and questioned what Government was doing about it.
However, the outspoken minister contended that praedial larceny was not just a policymaker’s problem, but a multifaceted legal issue that required agricultural stakeholders to work along with the law to get it
“It involves the agricultural sector in regards to its various societies coming together, working therefore with government, working therefore with the legal system, working with the Police Force system and also working with the Ministry of Finance in regards to the types of incentive systems that could be put in place to help mitigate this particular scourge,” he said.