'Teef, Teef !!'


'Teef, Teef !!'

...Farm thieves wreak havoc in northern Manchester

Editor at Large
South Central Bureau

Monday, November 18, 2019

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CHUDLEIGH, Manchester - Farmer Albert Forrest grimaced in seeming pain as he pointed The Jamaica Observer team to his patch of sweet peppers.

“This is a young piece of pepper and the people dem [thieves] start pick it before me even pick one...” he lamented two weeks ago.

Speaking to The Observer Central by telephone on Saturday, Forrest reported that thieves had re-entered the field, taking another 100 pounds or more of pepper.

Forrest said that earlier this year he lost an estimated $400,000 of sweet pepper to thieves in a neighbouring field. He labeled that incident particularly deplorable since he had just sprayed the field with insecticide the day before, which meant the peppers were not fit for consumption.

Forrest and other farmers operating mostly on leased land owned by bauxite/alumina company Jamalco in the rolling hills of Chudleigh, northern Manchester, say farm thieves are making their lives a living hell.

Praedial larceny is a problem which they say extend to much of northern Manchester. All sorts of crops including yams, Irish potatoes, tomatoes as well as animals are being targeted but in recent times the theft of sweet pepper has become especially prevalent because of the ease and speed with which it can be reaped; and the high prices for the product.

Forrest said in recent weeks farmers have been getting as much as $150 to $200 per pound for sweet peppers up from $30 to $40 per pound at low points in the marketing cycle.

“They [thieves] specialise in sweet peppers, especially when the price is up because it's easy for them,” explained Forrest's friend and neighbour Burton Wright.

“They just come at nights and in the space of 10-15 minutes they gone with 200 – 300 hundred pounds,” said Wright, who is a former parish councillor (PNP) for the Walderston Division.

Jamaican authorities have long identified praedial larceny or farm theft as a major hindrance for Jamaican agriculture, costing farmers billions of dollars annually.

In Chudleigh, the situation has been made worst by what appears to be a 'disconnect' between farmers and police.

Forrest complained that he and his neighbours were often frustrated by police inaction in response to calls for help when thieves raid their farms.

That's a claim, which was denied by the head of the Manchester Praedial Larceny Unit, Corporal Cliffmore Simpson, when The Observer Central made contact by telephone.

According to Forrest, the situation had gotten to the stage where many farmers no longer bother to report farm theft, he said.

In his case, he informed that he had not reported the latest case of theft because experience had taught him that nothing would come of it. Also, he said, he and other farmers often found their day wasted on taking time to make a formal report to the police.

“They take yu through all sort of rigmarole, waste yu time, and then they do nothing,” he complained.

Forrest said he believed overwork and inadequate resources including a shortage of vehicles adversely affected police response, but also, he believed some police officers simply lacked interest in probing farm theft.

“Most of the time police look like dem no have no vehicle and to me, they seem like they don't care,” Forrest said when The Observer visited two weeks back.

“If you are a man of society maybe they will act quickly, but if you are just an ordinary man, like all me go up there [to police station] without no vehicle or anything, they really no pay you no mind. But if you are a big man ... can mek talk to them, they may jump,” he said.

However, Corporal Simpson said that no reports of an upsurge in farm theft in Chudleigh and neighbouring areas had come to him.

“It's simple, if they don't report the incidents, the police can't take action. When it is reported then we can act,” said Simpson.

He said the police had consistently made that point at numerous farmers' meetings.

Simpson also argued that the failure of many farmers to register with the agricultural authorities made life difficult for police investigators.

“Non-registration of farmers made it harder to trace the origins of allegedly stolen property or verify the authenticity of receipts, said Simpson.

He complained that currently, the law makes no provision for vendors, “the middle man” in farming transactions, which further complicates matters for the police.

For Forrest, farmer registration is a non-issue. “I am registered and my ID always in my pocket,” he said, “and nuff criminals not doing any farming and they are registered”.

While recognising that many farmers have issues with the police, Wright told The Observer Central that in his case the situation was quite different. The police had done good work in ensuring the conviction of a man who had stolen from him, said Wright. The felon, whom Wright said had been reaping from his field “every week for nine months”, was now serving a three-year prison term.

Despite that, thieves were continuing to find it profitable to simply live off farmers in Chudleigh.

“I have lost a lot...imagine for a nine-month period, every week, losing $15,000, $20,000 and that is just for me. There are 40, 50 farmers in this area and everybody complaining,” he said.

So what's to be done?

Forrest said he would like to see more pro-activity from the police including “patrols” and more coorporation with farmers.

As the situation now stands, he and other farmers were trying to keep watch on their fields, but it was difficult since the thieves are also watching them, said Forrest.

While insisting that vigilante justice was not a viable solution, Wright said farmers needed to organise themselves into farm watch groups, which he said existed in some sections of the country but had not taken hold in northern Manchester.

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