A Newsday article (July 29th 2020) disclosed Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat’s announcement that the Agricultural sector will receive 500 million dollars in the first year of government, if the Peoples National Movement (PNM) is re-elected for the next five years. On July 31st a media release was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Corporate Communications Unit titled Correction to Article – “500m for Agriculture next Budget says Rambharat” stating it is 500 million for “Capital Expenditure for projects identified in the First Phase Report of the Road Map Committee”. Giving the benefit to the Minister that in the House of Angostura, time didn’t permit to get very wordy with clarity, the fact remains there has been a constant reduction in budget allocation to the Agriculture sector since the near 2 billion- dollar allocation by the United National Congress (UNC) during its tenure in government.
Meagre allocations will eclipse critical areas for sustainability in agriculture such as Praedial Larceny protection. The citizens of Trinidad and Tobago would have expected a healthy focus on local food production during this current period of depressed crude oil prices, a closed refinery and emerging global food protectionism by countries due to Covid-19.
In July 2011, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) declared Praedial Larceny as the “single most discouraging aspect of agriculture and has become a disincentive to investment”. Conservative estimates are that 18% of the value of farm output regionally is taken by thieves, resulting in the loss of millions of United States dollars annually. This does not account for future loss to agriculture production and productivity when farmers leave the sector or when high quality genetic breeds of livestock and crop varieties are stolen from breeding stations and agriculture research facilities.
Jamaica’s Praedial Larceny protection measures are now bearing fruits, experiencing a 50% reduction in theft. One strategy utilized was the creation of a partnership which comprises of an administrative arm under the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF) and an enforcement arm led by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). In Grenada, a similar collaborative arrangement exists where the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) has responsibility for a Praedial Larceny 300 hotline which has equal priority as the national emergency 911 hotline. The wind of collaboration is blowing in the opposite direction in Trinidad and Tobago as the south Praedial Larceny unit has been shut down and the entire south/central region is serviced by a low strength central based unit. The Ministry of Agriculture’s Praedial Larceny unit receives the reports of theft from the Ministry of National Security’s local police stations. The absence of an overarching policy to govern the collaborative operations of the Praedial Larceny unit, Trinidad and Tobago Police and the Municipal police reveals physical and industrial relations stress issues. The convoluted and lengthy process is a deterrent to reporting by farmers. A Barrackpore corn farmer, who came upon a person in the act of stealing corns, was advised that it is only categorized as praedial larceny if the thief is found leaving the garden with the corns. The farmer heeded the advice and removed his wheel tractor from blocking the thief’s van. The thief left unobstructed and the farmer was forced to accept his losses in addition to being treated as the perpetrator during the process of making the official report. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported out of a survey done in the Caribbean region that only 45% reporting of theft is done by farmers due to frustration of inaction by the authorities. In Grenada, where farmers were similarly reluctant in making reports, now have heightened confidence in reporting since investigations and court hearings are being completed within days.
The Trinidad and Tobago the Praedial Larceny Act stands as a withered document blighted by weak enforcement, low compliance, lengthy judicial processes, and bereft of key tenets gleaned from learning’s of recent successful regional experiences. The Praedial Larceny Act requires immediate review, amendment and subsequent enforcement in areas such as seller’s registration, proof of ownership and quantity limits for praedial larceny qualification. The process of traceability and elements for its operationalization need to be rooted within the Act. Jamaica’s Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Karl Samuda, in his 2017/18 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives shared that to achieve high traceability; “strengthening the legislative and policy framework” is mandatory. Crop insurance needs to be quick started and recovery-type subsidies need to move beyond mere flood damage with specific consideration of mechanical equipment and tools.
Investment is required in mass sensitization as the consumer public is a potential loser when vegetables and meat which are not ready for human consumption reaches the market. There have been reported cases of illness and death due to purchase of stolen agricultural products. The buying public has the last and most important call but they need to be made aware of their power of choice and discernment through Agricultural Extension services communication thrusts. Prevention of Praedial larceny must begin with Governments’ buy-in of its importance to national economic prosperity, international trade growth and citizen’s health and safety. This will compel the convening of the Security, Agricultural, Judicial, Legislative and Farming stakeholders to plant a seed of collaboration against the “plague”.