The problem of Praedial Larceny

Recently Agriculture Minister Roland Bhola announced that Grenada will be introducing hi-tech monitoring systems and a Praedial Larceny Court to fight the rampage of praedial larcency in the agriculture sector. For public interest this writer submits (almost verbatim) the following article on this issue reproduced from a study conducted by the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Business and Commerce in a select number of CARICOM member states.

It is traumatizing and heart-breaking to the farmer that wakes up in the morning and discovers that his agriculture produce or livestock has been plundered and vandalised by thieves in the night. In fact, it has been reported that farmers have been brutally attacked, threatened, even killed by these unscrupulous predators while protecting the fruits of their financial investment and hard labour.

Praedial larceny is defined as the theft of agricultural produce or livestock from a farm or estate and is one of the most difficult crimes various regional governments struggle to eradicate.

The impact of praedial larceny in the region is great. According to a study of the “Analysis of the State of Praedial Larceny in Member States of CARICOM”, praedial larceny has become a major risk factor to security and sustainability of gains made in primary agriculture activities of all member states of CARICOM.

Conservative estimates indicate the region is losing over US$321 million annually to praedial larceny and it has become one of the most pervasive and entrenched criminal activity in business and livelihood. In one Member State praedial larceny exceeds all other types of crimes.

In a 2010 survey among regional stakeholders the CARICOM study found there was more than 90 percent agreement that praedial larceny was the single most discouraging aspect of agriculture and had become a disincentive to investment in the sector and a serious threat to the livelihood of farmers.

An average of 82% of farmers affected are commercial or semi-commercial producers, indicating that praedial larceny strikes at the very heart of the agriculture productivity and food security of the most vulnerable.

Despite the serious impact of this crime it was challenging collecting data that accurately reflect the reality. However the study estimated the following farm losses:

-Trinidad and Tobago, US$11.3 million over a six-month period

-Jamaica, in excess of US$55 million annually

-Belize, in excess of US$300 million annually

-St Vincent and the Grenadines, US$2.3 million annually

-Bahamas US$16 million annually.

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

Praedial larceny has resulted in farmers in some sub-sectors abandoning their enterprise due to the high cost of security and heavy losses to theft.

The study further noted that the extent of the incidences and the level of risk from praedial larceny are complicated by the extensive groups of individuals who have developed livelihoods and businesses from stealing agriculture produce of all types to sustain a business activity and supplement their household.

In addition it would appear that each marauding group has developed its own distribution chain with its own business dynamics to carry out the crime undetected, while maintaining a link in the normal processes of legitimate business of domestic food production. As a result praedial larceny appears to be the only crime at the regional level that consistently trends upwards, the study said.

The CARICOM study stated that throughout the Member States of CARICOM the agriculture sector continues to be an important contributor to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment, and foreign exchange earnings. Based on World Bank indicators regional agriculture activities contributed US$1, 788,728,830 to regional GDP in 2008. Therefore, praedial larceny should be taken very seriously by all stakeholders.

The study outlined several measures and risk management tools that different countries in the region are planning to implement. For Trinidad and Tobago it said the 2020 Vision Draft Report on Agriculture noted that the Praedial Larceny Prevention Act (2000) which made provisions for a Praedial Larceny Squad, vendor registration, a Memorandum of Sale of Produce, and powers of the police to stop and search, had not reduced the high incidence of praedial larceny prevailing throughout the agriculture sector.

At the time there existed a small praedial larceny squad comprising civilian pseudo-vigilantes trained by T&T Police Service for high-risk concentrations of large livestock farms. Therefore, amendments have been made to the Praedial Larceny Act (2000) allowing for the full implementation of a Praedial Larceny Squad of police officers.
The study “Plan of Action for the Prevention and Risk Reduction of Praedial Larceny in CARICOM Member States” concluded with the following recommendations:

(i) Amendment of legislations for better enforcement and stiffer penalties, (ii) Strengthening the effectiveness of traceability systems, and (iii) The sensitisation of the Police and the Judiciary.

Jay Bruno

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