What a momentous week it has been!
Well, at least as far as some welcome signs of a renewed determination by the authorities to crack down on the long-standing problem of predial larceny in this country.
For years, farmers have been complaining about the heavy financial losses they were incurring as a result of widespread crop livestock theft. Reports have suggested the illegal activity is so well organized that it could be considered a business in itself.
In many instances, farmers would leave their fields intact on evenings with crops approaching or ready to be harvested, only to return the next day to find, heartbreakingly, that thieves had struck overnight and had made off with a significant portion of the fruits of their labour.
Livestock farmers fared no better. Prized sheep, cows, goats, even poultry sometimes, would also disappear overnight –– slaughtered on the spot in a few cases with remnants of the carcasses left scattered around, only to end up, obviously, on the plates of unsuspecting consumers.
Anyone who understands the devotion and hard work that go into farming to feed the nation would appreciate how demoralizing such discoveries are for farmers.
In pursuing their business, farmers would have given their all, toiling from sunrise to sunset, only to be deprived of the benefits. In frustration, many have called it quits over the years.
Hopefully, the four arrests this week would have served to lift the spirits of farmers and also send a clear but firm message to the criminal element that stealing crops and livestock carries a heavy price if caught –– time in jail, as one person found out on conviction for stealing sweet potatoes.
Altogether, three persons were arrested and charged with stealing large quantities of the popular ground provision from St Philip plantations.
A fourth person faced a spin-off charge –– having a large quantity of sweet potatoes in her possession but unable to produce a certificate of purchase
to show they were from legitimate sources, as required by law.
Given an 18-month prison sentence, one man told the court that he had sold the stolen produce to persons not far from where the offence was committed. The purpose was obvious –– for resale.
Following the arrests, a spokesman for the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) said several measures were being implemented to check the problem.
“The police are committed to ensuring the full support for the island’s farmers,” assured public relations officer Acting Assistant Superintendent David Welch while appealing to the general public to assist in ridding the country of the problem.
Chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS), James Paul, has welcomed the RBFF’s assurances on behalf of the farming community.
He revealed that farmers were also putting their own measures in place to deal with the theft of their crops. Lamenting that a farmer could lose up to $10,000 in crop theft on any given night, Paul said: “We have been doing neighbourhood watches among farmers and encourage farmers to look out for one another.
“But all of this cannot be done without the cooperation of persons in Barbados who are at least sympathetic to the fact that there are farmers out there who are trying to earn a living,” he added.
Consumers need to be sensitized too to the fact that knowingly buying stolen produce could be detrimental to their health, even resulting in death.
Sometimes crops are sprayed by farmers but are stolen before the chemicals have had the required time, based on the manufacturers’ specifications, to work their way out of the plant system. Consuming such crops is a high risk.
As the police continue their crackdown, hopefully more arrests and successful prosecutions will be made.
Agriculture is a vital sector of our economy, but it has declined over the years because of myriad challenges, including competition from cheaper imports as a result of market liberalization.
Persons who have chosen to remain in farming must be given all the necessary support to ensure they succeed and reap the fruits of their labour.
Food production goes beyond economics in terms of making a contribution to the island’s gross domestic product. It is also a national security issue which a lot of people, including some policymakers, unfortunately overlook in their decision-making.