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Clarke: I want to catch all kinds of thieves

BY ALICIA SUTHERLAND Observer staff reporter sutherlanda@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, May 05, 2014    

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NAIN, St Elizabeth — Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke has said that praedial larceny has now become a "highly commercialised" business in Jamaica and as such, all kinds of methods will have to be used to stem the practice.

He said that as a farmer for many years he can speak first hand of what it feels like to be preyed upon.

"I have a vested interest in catching cow thief, goat thief, yam thief, coconut thief, all kinds of thieves who prey upon the farmers of this country. If I can find a way to make a dent in this I will ride off into the sunset being happy that I achieved something," said Clarke.

Clarke was speaking at an official handing over ceremony for a drip irrigation system for a five-acre Alpart Community Council farm here on Friday.

The Council reportedly sought grant funding through the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) for the installation of the system to assist in the cultivation of crops including cabbage, hot pepper, sweet pepper, tomatoes, watermelon, thyme, broccoli, corn and pumpkin.

The over $9-million ($9,432,173.60) project was approved and funding was received from the World Bank through its Rural Economic Development Initiative and the Alpart Community Council.

With the drip irrigation system, 46 small farmers who are members of the Alpart Community Council will be able to "develop and implement a reliable vegetable production plan," which was previously difficult because of the perennial dry periods experienced in St Elizabeth.

Council members also received the requisite training in addition to sanitary convenience and storage facility for production to be done in line with the Food Safety Modernisation Act.

Project administrator at the Alpart Community Council Camilla Blake said that the grant funding not only facilitated a "transformational effect" for agricultural development in the respective St Elizabeth communities, but on a national basis.

The minister of agriculture described the farmers in St Elizabeth as most resilient.

"They have taught us how to survive.... how to do it under trying circumstances," he said.

Clarke said that "jungle justice" is not a method that he supports, as he seeks to address the problem with praedial thieves.

He called for the cooperation of all stakeholders, including those in the judicial system as he embarks on getting the newly proposed passport for cattle into action.

"One of the reasons why we failed in the receipt book system was that it took farmers years upon years to go and get registered. Even now as we speak thousands of farmers have not registered," he said.

Clarke said that the cattle passport will not only help with praedial larceny but it is necessary for other checks and balances in the food chain.

Chairman of the St Elizabeth Parish Council and mayor of Black River Everton Fisher believes that the magistrates in the court system can work in tandem with the police and farmers by not just giving "a simple slap on the wrist" to praedial thieves.

The Alpart Community Council has a 10-year lease on a seven-and-a-half acre property from the mothballed Alumina Partners of Jamaica (Alpart) to cultivate cash crops.

The company has committed to providing the water for irrigation.

Richard Parchment, member of parliament for South East St Elizabeth, said that the Alpart Community Council was doing invaluable work in the communities that it serves.

He encouraged other community groups to make the effort to access opportunities and funding that are available for development.

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