The Crime Of Praedial Larceny

After investing years of hard labour, sweat and tears, it is difficult and heart breaking for a farmer to wake up to stolen produce or livestock. Several reports have stated that farmers suffered physical attacks, received threats and even in some cases have been killed.

Praedial larceny, which is basically defined as the theft of agricultural produce or livestock from a farm or estate is one of the most difficult crimes various governments struggle to get under control.

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 the CARICOM”, praedial larceny has become a major risk to security and sustainability of the gains in primary agriculture activities in member states of CARICOM.  Conservative estimates indicate that the region is losing over US $321 million annually to praedial larceny and it has now become one of the most pervasive and entrenched crimes in business and livelihoods. In at least one Member state, it exceeds all other types of crimes.

The CARICOM study reported that a 2010 survey among regional stakeholders found that 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 threat to livelihoods in farming and fishing.

An average of 82 percent of farmers and fishers affected are commercial or semi-commercial producers, indicating that praedial larceny strikes at the heart of agricultural productivity and at the food security of its most vulnerable populations.

Despite the serious impact of this crime, it was very challenging in collecting data that would accurately represent the reality.  However, the study gave the following figures:

  • Trinidad and Tobago: Losses of US $11.3 million over a six-month period
  • Jamaica: Losses in excess of US $55 million annually
  • Belize: Losses in excess of US $300,000 [MOE Stude1] annually
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines: US $2.3 million  annually
  • Bahamas: Losses to its marine fish industry of US $16 million annually

Meanwhile, the study also indicated that St Lucia, one of the smaller economies is spending in excess of US $400,000 annually on district pilot activities to prevent and reduce praedial larceny, while Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines spend smaller, but relatively important amounts. This impact has also resulted in farmers in some sub-sectors such as aquaculture to abandon their enterprises due to high costs of security and heavy loss to theft.

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

In addition it would appear that each group has developed its own distribution chain with its own dynamics of how to carry out the crime undetected, while maintaining a link in the normal processes of legitimate business of domestic food distribution.

As a result, praedial larceny appears to be the only crime at regional level that consistently trends upwards the study said. Notwithstanding that, this problem is not limited to the region, but it is also an international issue.

The CARICOM study stated that throughout the fourteen 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 Preadial Laceny should be taken very seriously.

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 Vision 2020 Draft Report on Agriculture noted that the Praedial Larceny Prevention Act (2000), which made provisions for the establishment of a Praedial Larceny Squad, vendor registration and 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.

According to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, praedial larceny is mainly concentrated in the rural areas like Toco and Sangre Grande rather than the urban areas like Diego Martin.  Amendments have been made to the Praedial Larceny Prevention Amendment Act 2000, which allows for the full implementation of a Praedial Larceny Squad.

At present, there is a small praedial larceny squad, which comprises civilians who were trained by the T&T Police Service. The squad operates at the Carlsen field area, which is considered a high-risk area because of its large livestock farms.

In the study for the “Plan of Action for Prevention and Risk Reduction in Praedial Larceny in Member States of CARICOM”, recommendations included:

  • Amendment of praedial larceny legislation to allow for better enforcement and stiffer penalties
  • Strengthen effectiveness of traceability system
  • The sensitization of the Police and the Judiciary.

It also stated that in addition to the issues relevant to the law, there are policy issues related to land tenure, land use and water management as well as the impact of drug use among youth in some of the member states on praedial larceny.  However, praedial larceny continues on both the small and large scale and is a persistent threat to regional food security and the profitability of stakeholders.

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