Promises of tougher measures to tackle the vexing issue of praedial larceny appear to be bearing no fruit for over half a dozen farmers at Pilgrim Place, Christ Church who have been losing hundreds of thousands of dollars at the hands of brazen thieves.
Livestock farmers Omar Smart and Jason Roberts are reporting losses of more than $30,000 in stock over the last five years that has all but crippled an over $50,000 investment in the small project. The situation however went from bad to worse since March as thieves continuously prey on their establishment prompting the two, along with other farmers in the area, to demand a thorough investigation from the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF).
“I would say I lost more than $30,000 in stock that included pigs, feed, chicken, and water feeders. These things cost money and they even took a working refrigerator from me,” Smart told Barbados TODAY.
“From March till now we lost 26 piglets, feed, nipples, security lights, medication for the pigs. In that period we lost about 60 chickens out of the 100 we raised.
“It has become a little overbearing now to see these incidents occurring so close and when you think about the fact that they even carried away the fridge, I believe they are just taking our things and selling them off,” the frustrated farmer added.
Investments in motion sensor lights, taller fencing, welded doors and other safety measures have not deterred the crooks. In fact, Smart revealed that on one occasion, the criminals even took off with newly installed lights and security cameras.
The two farming partners who are residents of St George said they chose the Pilgrim Place location after failing to secure a plot of land in their own community. Consequently, when criminals strike at night, there is no one on-site to defend their investment and according to Smart, numerous complaints to the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) appear to be falling on deaf ears.
In fact, even after the farmers’ independent investigations led them to a house in a neighboring community, officers assigned to the Oistins Police Station failed to make headway with investigations.
“The farmers here are not on a big scale like some other farms and I have all the respect for the Royal Barbados Police Force, but I don’t know if they are giving us the same treatment as they would give to a larger establishment. It doesn’t seem like we are being treated fairly,” said Smart.
“The police just ask us if we have the pigs marked, but if I put something in their ears, it can be removed. If I cut their ears in a certain way, [the thieves] can say that they cut them in that way. If I use an object to brand the pigs, they may no longer be deemed fit for human consumption,” he explained.
The developments are unfolding at a time when Government has promised to leave no stone unturned in the fight against praedial larceny. In April, Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced the establishment of a Praedial Larceny Unit within the RBPF that will incorporate drone technology to tackle the issue.
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir has also revealed that existing legislation will be repealed and replaced with a more relevant legal framework.
Nevertheless, on numerous occasions this year, President of the Barbados Agriculture Society (BAS) James Paul expressed disappointment with the progress made on the issue.
Efforts to reach police public relations officer, acting Inspector Rodney Inniss were unsuccessful. Numerous calls to Minister Weir on Thursday afternoon also went unanswered.
Meanwhile, as Government continues to promote local farming as a viable avenue to economic enfranchisement, Smart and Roberts are unsure of their future in this area.
“The police are coming and advising us to get more security and asking us what more we can do. But I don’t know how much more I can do.
“To be honest, we have talked about shutting it right down, but it is something that we love to do. I love to come up here and work and although it is hard work, it is also fulfilling to come up here and do what I am doing,” said Smart, who was inspired by his father to enter farming.
Meanwhile, Christopher St Hill, the owner of two farms in the area has closed down his operations after losing 166 piglets, 34 goats and overall, approximately $30,000 in investments.
“I have started to do a little planting, but I am not going to buy the stuff for these people to just take them up. If they take the vegetables, it doesn’t matter too much, but other than that it’s the end for me unless we can get better security up here,” St. Hill said.
“It’s a no-win situation here,” he added.