Agri stakeholders welcome amended law to tackle farm theft
TWO major players in the agricultural sector are welcoming the passage of the Agricultural Produce (Amendment) Act but said it will not be effective if more is not done to apprehend farm thieves.
The Agricultural Produce Act was passed in 1926 to regulate the trade and movement in agricultural produce. The amendments, which were passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, seek to put in place more stringent penalties to address the issue of praedial larceny.
Under the amended Bill, the maximum fine for people convicted of transporting stolen agricultural produce has moved from $250,000 to $1 million, and the maximum prison term of three months is now three years.
President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Lenworth Fulton told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday that while he was happy for the legislation “because it’s in the works for more than a decade”, it is now up to the police to step up their game in nabbing farm thieves.
“They have been trying, but there is need for much more surveillance to really catch the [perpetrators], because this is really a big problem that we face. It is said that praedial larceny activities are taking $8 billion from us per year. No other business in Jamaica could withstand that, none. So it’s really purposeful that they do something about it now, and I think we will see a cessation or [tapering] off of some of the praedial larceny activities,” he said.
Fulton said that the police will have a task on their hands, especially in deep rural areas, which are difficult to patrol, and expressed the hope that the legislation will be accompanied by the promised introduction of agricultural wardens.
“If they don’t do that, the human capital will still be lacking because, the truth to be told, the country is infested with serious crime, so unless you add some people which have specific reference to farm theft then it’s still going to be difficult, because the police really have some serious crimes on their hands, and if you go to a police station to report that they steal your goat and somebody else is reporting a rape, they are going to attend to the rape, and rightly so,” he said.
“So we really need some squads to break the back of this thing. We see that farm theft that is going on is because a lot of them were in scamming and can’t scam anymore, and some of them were in drugs and all kinds of illegal activities, and those are more controlled by the police. So they turn to the field to steal from us, because they are in this habit of getting easy money to go and drink and gamble. They don’t work. So we have to find a way to gather intelligence and put an end to it; it’s a terrible scourge,” he said, adding that the scheme to trace agricultural produce using receipt books also needs to be strengthened.
President of the Small Ruminants Association of Jamaica Trevor Bernard, while also stressing the need for more police personnel to tackle the theft of farm produce, said he is of the belief that the imposition of longer prison terms and stiffer fines will increase the motivation of the police to go after the thieves, “because they are not going to feel like they are working in vain”.
“I think it’s [the legislation] going to be effective, it’s going to make a difference… it’s a good move,” he said, adding that he believes increased penalties will also act as a deterrent for farm thieves as it will cause them to “think twice” before carrying out the illegal activity.
He said he believes the law will also encourage farm owners to report thefts, noting that some farmers had stopped making reports, “because they did not believe the police have the teeth or the time to deal with this”.
In his contribution to the debate on the Bill, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green said that the law is fundamental in the fight of praedial larceny because the work undertaken by law enforcement has shown that it is in the movement and transportation of agricultural produce that these criminals are most susceptible.
He said that the police have to continue to do their work, because the reality is that it will always be a policing initiative.
“The police are able to have their greatest impact in capturing those who trade in [stolen] agricultural produce, those who prey upon our farmers, especially our livestock farmers,” he said.
Green said that since the start of the year, the police have conducted more than 7,000 praedial larceny-focused patrols, done over 80,000 vehicle searches, arrested 59 people, and have 96 cases before the court.