By Anesta Henry
President of the Barbados Association of Retailers, Vendors and Entrepreneurs (BARVEN), Alistair Alexander, is calling for more practical stakeholder involvement in combating praedial larceny than mere words in pieces of legislation.
He told Barbados TODAY that because crop theft is a well-organised crime, he believes some supermarkets may unknowingly also be buyers of the stolen items.
He said BARVEN believed that while it is customary for vendors to be searched and targeted for stolen goods and produce, the time had come for all those who receive these crops through illegitimate means to be prosecuted.
“I have seen it happen where police come into the market and approach the situation as if all of us are involved. They have to target persons they suspect, not coming and ask every vendor where they get their produce because they are not going to go and ask every supermarket where they get their produce.
“It is organised crime and they go to establishments where they can easily get quick money, which are the supermarkets and such like.
“It will be important to be able, through surveillance, to trace where these people are carrying this produce and if there are particular vendors who they are carrying them to, that the authorities can prosecute and make examples of the receivers. he said.
Last week, small farmer Anthony Charles lamented that $2 000 worth of cassava was stolen from his farm in Ebenezer, St Philip, while there were reports of a field of sugarcane belonging to a private farmer being attacked by thieves.
A few days later, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir told Barbados TODAY that the Protection of Agricultural Products Act 2022 was proclaimed on Monday and will help farmers to protect their produce from thieves
Weir said the legislation was long overdue, and he was satisfied that it properly represented the best interest of farmers whom he said were key in the creation of the document.
The Act provides for fines of up to $100 000, imprisonment for five years, or both. Before this, the maximum fine was $5 000.
The minister also indicated that the law reactivated Operation Bird’s Eye which allows for a partnership between the Barbados Police Service and the Barbados Defence Force to patrol targeted areas and carry out investigations.
Alexander said he had his reservations regarding whether the legislation would be effective, considering that the majority of the time persons selling stolen crops present themselves as legitimate farmers.
“They may be legitimate as far as they are farmers, but the produce that they carry may be illegally obtained. I think that we need to sit at the round table and really thrash out this thing. It calls for serious discussions and BARVEN can then put in measures that we think can help. If we collectively do this thing I believe that we can get it done because if you have a hole in the bucket the water will still fall through,” he said.
Alexander added: “There must be some kind of serious brainstorming on how to deal with this situation. All the different stakeholders need to come up with some type of mechanism to stop it.
“Much of what I have heard like legislation and such like, from our own intelligence, we know that there are some farmers who are involved in praedial larceny and therefore that person can write a bill of receipt as a legitimate farmer.”
Meanwhile, the president insisted that BARVEN continues to hold a zero-tolerance approach towards members purchasing produce suspected to be stolen.
He said he would even go as far as to describe crop theft as a capital offence which threatens food security on the island.
“Security of course is the lifeline of a people. And when you have a situation where farmers are discouraged from farming because their hard labour, all that they have put in, somebody just in one night come and rob them of their produce and their livelihood, is a serious thing that can discourage farmers and cause people to go out of production, threatening food security,” he said.