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Thieves must reap what they sow

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, May 25, 2014    

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Stolen things bring in misfortune (Kenyan Proverb)

RECENTLY, junior minister in the Ministry of Transport and Works Richard Azan made a call, albeit at a political meeting, for praedial larcenists to be given more severe punishment, including the severing of a hand. While to some this utterance by the junior minister might sound barbaric and some might even say uncivilised, I fully understand the frustration and deep-rooted concern that would have caused such a recommendation.

Let me declare that my views may well be prejudiced by my formative experiences, having grown up in a farming district in St Mary. Many years ago, my dearly departed grandfather owned a prized cow that he had nourished from calf stage. The animal grew majestically. My grandfather had done several forecasts on how many calves he wanted from this heifer.

When the cow was eight months pregnant -- or, as we say out in the country parts, 'in-calf' -- he took her out to the Richmond Farm Prison [he was, at the time, the superintendent] which had verdant grasslands. This was also done so that the heifer could feed with company for some days. I did not understand the 'science' of that decision then.

He thought also that the animal would have been safer there, given that there was some security in place. He checked on the animal each morning and with each passing day he would revisit his forecasts of how many calves he wanted and how much money he was going to earn.

Sadly, those dreams were permanently deferred. One morning a messenger visited his home in Goat Hill, earlier than was usual. The news was unpleasant. Thieves broke into the cow barn and made off with several cows, many of them pregnant. His was included.

I remember the look of horror and historical disappointment on my grandfather's face when he saw his partial handiwork destroyed. The head of the cow and feet were thrown against one side of a large breadfruit tree root and beside rope and chains the baby calf, only a few days from birth, was discarded in a dirt track nearby.

Years of sweat, toil and investment had disappeared almost in the twinkling of an eye. The thieves were never caught and he never invested in another cow.

Hundreds of farmers all over Jamaica can recite similar experiences. They invest their lives only to witness those who do not sow come and reap. Many of these farmers have no other means of earning a livelihood, and in fact many borrow monies from banks and other lending agencies to invest in the business of farming.

Many farmers, after suffering horrendous and heartbreaking losses, never recover from the experiences of their fields being raided or animals being carted off by thieves who premeditatedly hijack the lives of decent, hard-working people. The ripple effects of the actions of praedial thieves are often devastating on households and families.

Thieves nowadays have become ingenious at their 'craft'. I recall recently seeing a news item where goats were dressed up in tights and other female apparel [I wonder at the significance of that in relation to the thieves], and stuffed in a 'deportee' vehicle in which the seats were gouged out. Except for the intervention of the police in a spot check these goats would have doubtless been curried, brown stewed or otherwise prepared for many of our tables.

Of course, we the consumers sometimes do not know that the meat is stolen, but I gather there are supermarkets that are unwittingly buying stolen meat from the 'two-foot puss dem'. We all need to remember to pray before eating nowadays, as in many instances we cannot be totally sure from whence our food came.

Not long ago, I saw a news item where some thieves went into a village somewhere in St Ann, I believe, and stole yams. The yams were not already packaged, but were diligently uprooted from the ground. These thieves were not so lucky, however, as the farmers had set a trap for them. They mounted several roadblocks, leading out of the community.

Thanks to cellphone technology, communication was made easy. As the thieves attempted to leave the district they got their comeuppance. They were set upon, roughed up generously and handed over to the police who were part of the night squad that had outwitted them.

On April 3, 2014 a story in the Jamaica Observer recited the tribulations [and I use this word deliberately] that farmers were fetching because of praedial thieves. According to president of the Jamaica Goat Farmers' Association, Kenneth King, "farmers could take the law into their own hands if they continue to lose their animals to praedial thieves". King noted, "People have reached a stage where, after they have done what they are forced to do, they are willing to walk to the police station and give up themselves, because you cannot be raising your goats, expecting to use that as a source of income to feed your wife, your children, educate your children and when you come one night, everything is wiped out. For this year, so far we have records of over 50 goats being stolen in Martha Brae and its environs, and this is not a fabricated figure. One lady in Martha Brae has lost over 15 -- all stolen during the day. They went out to pasture; they just haven't returned. I have lost five, a neighbour lost two..."

Another, Trelawny farmer, Alec Henderson, owner of the Orange Valley Estates, told the Observer that the thieves were nowadays armed with guns and were apparently prepared for any eventuality. Henderson surmised, "To sit there and skin them (goats), that means they are not afraid, so if anybody come there they probably would kill them. They don't care if you bring your machete, they are going to shoot you. That is what it indicates. They are definitely bringing their machetes, and I wouldn't be surprised if one or two of them wouldn't have their firearm."

These are clearly men for whom stealing is a business, a livelihood. This 'business' of praedial larceny is costing the economy of Jamaica and the wider Caricom states billions of dollars each year. In a recent study on the Analysis of the State of Praedial Larceny in Member States of Caricom, the conclusion was reached that "praedial larceny has become a major risk to the security and sustainability of the gains in primary agricultural activities in member states of Caricom". The study went on to point out, among other things, that:

"Conservative estimates indicate that the region is losing over US$321 million annually to praedial larceny and it has now become one of the most pervasive and entrenched crimes. In at least one member state, it exceeds all other types of crimes. A recent Caricom study among regional stakeholders found that there was more than 90 per cent agreement that praedial larceny was the single most discouraging aspect of agriculture and had become a disincentive to investment in the sector and a threat to livelihoods in farming and fishing.

An average of 82 per cent of farmers and fishers affected are commercial or semi-commercial producers, indicating that praedial larceny strikes at the heart of agricultural productivity and at the food security of its most vulnerable populations.

The study gave the following figures:

* Trinidad and Tobago: Losses of US$11.3 million over a six-month period

* Jamaica: Losses in excess of US$55 million annually

* Belize: Losses in excess of US$300,000 annually

* St Vincent and the Grenadines: Losses of US$2.3 million annually

* Bahamas: Losses to its marine fish industry of US$16 million annually

The study also indicated that St Lucia, one of the smaller economies, is spending in excess of US$400,000 annually on district pilot activities to prevent and reduce praedial larceny, while Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines spend smaller, but relatively important amounts.

This impact has also resulted in farmers in some sub-sectors, such as aquaculture, abandoning their enterprises due to high costs of security and heavy loss to theft. The study further noted that the extent of the incidence and level of risk from praedial larceny is complicated by the extensive groups of individuals who have developed livelihoods and businesses from stealing agricultural produce of all types, either to supplement household food security or to sustain a business activity.

In addition, it would appear that each group has developed its own distribution chain with its own dynamics of how to carry out the crime undetected, while maintaining a link in the normal processes of legitimate business of domestic food distribution.

As a result, praedial larceny appears to be the only crime at a regional level that consistently trends upwards, the study said. Notwithstanding that, this problem is not limited to the region, but it is also an international issue.

Based on World Bank figures regional agriculture activities contributed US$1,988,728,830 to regional GDP in 2013.

Jamaica has done quite a bit through RADA, the police, legislation and such to halt the tide of praedial larceny and here I must give credit to the former minister of agriculture and fisheries Dr Christopher Tufton, who brought agriculture back from the brink, and the present Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke, a very affable gentlemen and one of four [the others are Phillips, Thwaites and Davies] performing ministers in this Administration.

Much more needs to be done. We should not dismiss Minister Azan's recommendation without more discussion. I think it is time that praedial larceny is categorised as a capital offence, and that a mandatory sentence of 20 years to life is considered for certain categories and circumstances of praedial thieving.

The farmers from whom they steal are often given financial and morale life sentences. Justice demands, in my view, that the thieves get punishments befitting the consequences of their actions on the lives of the farmers.

Electricity Thieves

Jamaica has a big problem with electricity theft and late payment of bills, but compared to Pakistan, our electricity challenges are minuscule and local thieves are amateurs. The problem of electricity theft in particular is so multitudinous in Pakistan that recently Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif ordered his Minister of Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif to implement a zero tolerance policy.

The minister did exactly what he was told. Electricity was disconnected from hundreds of residences and businesses, among them 18 government ministry buildings, including the office of the prime minister. The service was reconnected after 48 hours when the bill was paid.

Scammers — high-speed hijackers

Since I started writing this column, among the scores of e-mails I have received via the address below are some especially from African or Far Eastern-sounding names, advising me that I have won millions in pounds sterling and/or United States dollars, etc. Some of my colleagues have said they have received several of these e-mails also. I share three for purposes of laughter only.

Exhibit 1

Hello,

Compliment of the day to you.

I am Mrs Elizabeth Uzuzu; I am sending this brief letter to solicit your partnership to transfer $39.5 million US dollars. I shall send you more information and procedures when I receive positive response from you. Thanks

Best Regards,

MRS Elizabeth Uzuzu

Exhibit 2

Good day,

Your mailbox was successfully selected in the ongoing 2014 England Jackpot draw and you have been awarded a sum of £1,750,000.00. Provide the following details for claims.

Name

Address

Mobile number

Occupation

Exhibit 3

This is to inform you that you have won a prize money of £1,550,952.00 (One million five hundred and fifty thousand nine hundred and fifty two pounds sterling) for the Year 2014 Prize Promotion which is organised by the British Columbia National Lottery.

FILL PAYMENT PROCESSING FORM BELOW:

1. FULL NAMES:________

2. ADDRESS:__________

3. SEX:_______________

4. AGE:________

5. MARITAL STATUS:_____

6. OCCUPATION:________

I have long determined that whatever I achieve in this mortal life I will do so via the biblical pronouncement that, "You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it." Genesis 3:19 KJV

I get a laugh each time I see one of these e-mails. How anyone with a modicum of sense falls for this kind of nonsense, God alone knows.

Whenever a person breaks a stick in the forest, let him consider what it would be like, if it were himself that was thus broken. (Nigerian Proverb)

— Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Comments to higgins160@yahoo.com

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