Charles moots special task force to collar farm thieves
Manchester NW communities hoping to reduce agri losses after road repairs
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pearnel Charles Jr says he will be putting a submission to Cabinet for the formation of a special task force to tackle praedial larceny.
With an estimated $6 billion lost to farm theft locally each year, the task force, which will be staffed by agricultural wardens, forms part of a comprehensive approach being pursued to combat the issue, including legislative amendments to impose stiffer penalties for offenders.
The agricultural wardens, Charles disclosed, are expected to have the same powers, authority, privileges and immunity as a police constable as outlined in the Praedial Larceny Act of 1983.
“Submissions are being drafted right now for the agricultural wardens group. It will be a specialised force of trained professionals, some police and volunteers who will focus attention on protecting farms and farmers,” he said in a Gleaner interview.
Speaking at the opening ceremony for farm roads in the communities of Grass Piece in Maidstone and Back Street in Wilderness, Manchester North Western on Thursday, Charles said that although Jamaica’s agricultural output has been steadily increasing, it is always under threat from the “two-foot puss”.
“But we’re going to work on a programme that will help us to organise farmers to introduce the technology and the systems for us to be able to protect your farms and protect you, and, more importantly, to find out who is buying from the thieves,” he told residents of the largely farming communities.
Manchester North Western Member of Parliament Mikael Phillips said his constituency was now at a “tipping point” with praedial larceny, noting that as recently as last week, more than 20 heads of goats were lost in the area as thieves plundered farms.
“We’ve been saying, for a very long time, that there needs to be a dedicated [team], not just one officer in a police station that deals with praedial larceny, but you have to build out. Just like how you build out an enforcement team with the Transport Authority and different agencies, you have to build out a dedicated team in dealing with praedial larceny,” he said.
He expressed concern that with an increase in major crimes in the parish in recent weeks, the under-resourced police could end up putting praedial larceny on the back burner.
“We have one police station. Our police station has one vehicle. Otherwise, parts of the constituency is assisted by Mandeville,” he stated. “We have to relook at the laws [so] that when persons are held, there is swift action, not only by the police itself, but by the court system.”
Meanwhile, Charles said the $670-million road-rehabilitation programme will continue as the government pushes to ramp up agricultural production for the more than 33,000 farmers in Manchester.
‘We want to see Jamaica winning’
Back Street and Grass Piece have each had one mile of farm roads rehabilitated at a combined cost of roughly $17 million.
“Wherever there is production, the government will be providing roads. We will be supporting all members of parliament from whatever side. Agriculture is one area where we don’t want to see green or orange.” Charles said, referring to the colours of the island’s two main political parties. “Agriculture is where we want to see Jamaica winning.”
The rehabilitated roads are expected to benefit more than 100 farmers, and 47-year-old Back Street farmer Barbara Forbes said it is long overdue.
“From when I was a child growing up, I heard dem talking about this road to fix, so it finally [happened], which I am appreciative of. I give God thanks. I’m very grateful,” she said.
Forbes said that her farm is located miles away from the main road and she often resorts to using donkeys to transport produce. At times, she also carried the load on her head, she said, recalling countless times balancing up to 120 pounds of potatoes atop her head on her way to the road.
The roads did not only cause a strain to necks, according to Irish potato farmer Philmore Morris, but also hit his pocket hard as he lost produce after failing to get it off the farm in time when reaped.
“Once yuh can’t reach road wid it, it go back,” he told The Gleaner. “Once yuh reap it and nuh have nobody to take it out and you cannot take it out, it has to stay on the farm and it rotten.”
Another farmer is pleading for more financial support to put idle lands in Grass Piece into agricultural production.
“Mi miself have land, but mi can’t manage it. Mi have di mind fi do it and so, but it is only a little at a time. Because sometime mi can’t buy di fertiliser, the spray, and the manure, and whatever it takes,” Everton Moore told The Gleaner.