By Pushpa Balgobin
in Paramaribo, Suriname
Praedial larceny is responsible for up to US$390 million in agriculture losses annually across the Caribbean region, Technical Advisor to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s sub-regional office, Reuben Stewart says.
Speaking on strengthening production and productivity support for the region at the opening of Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Paramaribo, Suriname on Monday, Stewart emphasised that the income of the OECS countries in relation to the gross domestic contributions of agriculture was not as great as the losses.
He highlighted that the theft of agricultural produce was “hitting at the core of survival of agriculture in the region.”
Stewart said that regionally a multi-disciplinary approach was needed to tackle the issue with an emphasis on detection of agriculture theft and greater enforcement of existing legislation.
Currently, Stewart noted, the crime allows for stolen agriculture products to enter markets rather seamlessly through legitimate and normal processes because there is little accountability. He noted that losses annually ranged from 20-30% of the US$1.3 billion earned.
Speaking to Stabroek News, Stewart said that because of the high level of small and family farms throughout the region many farmers did not have the fiscal means to protect themselves.
He said that community-based protection mechanisms such as neighbourhood watches were one of the many recommendations being proposed by the region to combat praedial larceny. “It is a costly exercise and most countries are going through fiscal stresses and it would be difficult for them to find the resources,” he said.
Stewart said the cost ramifications went further than monetary as “praedial larceny has resulted in the bank foreclosing on farms, farmers unable to repay their loans… praedial larceny has resulted in a number of poor people children dropping out of school.”
He said that if praedial larceny were to be seriously addressed, it meant the possibility of a regional fund so small scale farmers could access money. Stewart cited Jamaica as one of the countries leading the fight against agriculture theft, which he said was not confined to produce, but the theft of tools and machinery, fertilisers and planting materials.
Stewart said Jamaica was undergoing tests involving drones that would monitor high-risk areas.
He said the Caribbean needed to work towards registering crops so when theft does occur farms are able to recognise their crops after an analysis.
He said various countries would be undergoing trials to allow for yield estimations to be done because many times those responsible for praedial larceny are also farmers. Stewart said yield estimation would see farmers having to answer why they had high levels of surplus.
The technical advisor said that tackling praedial larceny was tied to back-up systems and registering farmers. He said that with a back-up system in place and with insurance policies police could be brought in once an agriculture officer was able to verify what the gains would have been and farmers would go to any institution and recover 20-40% of losses.
Dr John Deep Ford, Coordinator of the FAO Sub-regional Office for the Caribbean also touched on praedial larceny during his presentation on public policy and good governance.
He had also emphasised the need for farmer registration stating that registration would allow for agencies to know who was affected by agriculture theft and to properly study the consequences with data.
Ford had spoken about agriculture theft during the opening ceremony of the CWA earlier Monday, when he highlighted that small-scale family farms needed protection for sustainability.
The agriculture expert had noted that across the region over 90% of family farms were less than five acres, which meant that many farms could not survive, should praedial larceny continue to be pervasive.