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Tuesday 23 October 2018
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Commentary

Pressure for farmers

Prof Ramesh Deosaran

Pressure. This is described as “the exertion of continuous force against someone by another.” And so, after sweating to cultivate corn, bananas, avocados, tomatoes, peppers, cassava, cabbage, lettuce, papaws, coconuts, mangoes, and even after rearing goats, sheep and pigs, farmers are now under severe pressure from night and day thieves. It is politely called praedial larceny. But it is a very depressing and rapacious attack against the farming and agricultural community. A wicked subversion of the country’s agricultural policies too. As cocoa production increases in value, look out for thieves.

According to information presented to me, if any farmer or property owner catches the thief red-handed or complains publicly, his or her life is quickly endangered. The relative silence over the epidemic merely encourages the bandits. It was, therefore, quite encouraging when Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) McDonald Jacob professionally intervened when the officers at the Caroni police station, rather than dealing properly with Mr Ram Raj’s report of 26 stolen ducks, told him to go the Piarco station instead.

At Piarco station, the police told him that “regular police” do not deal with that, he should go to the Praedial Larceny Squad (Newsday, June 28). ACP Jacobs rightly admonished the police. “When a report of praedial larceny is made to any police station, they are supposed to investigate, just as they would any other crime,” he explained. Take the report, then work with the Praedial Larceny Squad.

But there is more, quite disturbing, without proper remedy. When Mr Ram Raj went to the Praedial Larceny Squad, he said no one was there to take his report. I know. Sometimes you wonder whether some police officers read up their regulations, or understand what consumer service means – after all the expensive training sessions. This must embarrass Acting Commissioner Stephen Williams. It’s the same thing when the police at one station tell you to go to another station to make your report.

It now appears from Mr Raj’s case and further data that having four praedial larceny squads scattered in four areas of the country is misguided, inefficient and ineffective. Every police station in the country should be equipped, physically and manpowered enough, to deal promptly with all reports. The operational framework within which the Praedial Squad works is itself quite challenging, obstructing them from doing more. In fact, last year, squad members complained to the squad’s superintendent about salary and resource problems, but to no avail (Newsday, May 17). Then Mr Rambharat faces the serious problem of the “missing 70 guns” from the praedial larceny squad.

A tearful Ashanlal Deosaran (no relative) of Rio Claro told me how after planting about half-acre of corn, he found all stolen. After having his tools and produce stolen, and garden shed burnt down, breadwinner Toolsie Ramkissoon, said: “Right now I just feel to cry. We have no money coming in and I have to start from scratch.” Farmers at Tabaquite now see praedial larceny as an epidemic (Guardian, June 14).

Many of these thieves are quite young, fresh from school – dropped out or otherwise. For example, Jason Dyer, 18, Allister Dyer, 19, and Obasie Cooper, 21, were all found guilty by magistrate Nalini Singh of stealing a van load of green mangoes ($28,000 in fines and compensation).

From the recorded data and my own meetings with farmers across the country, praedial larceny is now an epidemic, much more under-reported than the vehicle- larceny data provided by Sgt Christopher Swamber. The first call to duty is for Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat to establish a ministerial task force to undertake a fiercely independent review (beyond the 2014-15 baseline survey by the Office of Law Enforcement Policy, OLEP).

A priority focus should be not only a new framework and resources required by the squad, but on the victims and their crying need for protection, compensation and justice. Another starting point is for Mr Rambharat to consult with Mayaro MP Rulston Paray on the frightening extent of praedial larceny in Mayaro – most not reported. Mr Paray will explain how many coconuts are stolen, night and day, carried away by loaded pick-ups and sold at $10 each. Do the praedial larceny officers check drivers for receipts, etc? Please relieve the pressure on hard-working farmers. It will be good for diversification

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