How praedial larceny robs consumers

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -


Every night I go to bed.

I clutch a zaboca hard like lead

Should a bandit dare to tread

I will fling it at him and kill him dead.

I BOUGHT an avocado three weeks ago as hard as a diamond. The vendor assured me that if balled up in a brown paper bag it would ripen nicely in about four days.

That avocado is still with me; looking better than I do.

More interesting, though, was the tale of woe peddled by that vendor. He is among many farmers operating in Wallerfield. This agricultural community has, by some accounts, devolved into a wild west of fruit and veggie rustlers. Thieves are raiding crops with almost manic fervour. They're harvesting produce before farmers can get them to market.

Consequently, farmers must reap them before thieves pass through their fields. This results in a fair portion of their produce being prematurely harvested.

It also means the juvenile produce has to be sold with instructions for optimal use.

"You have to put that lime in de microwave and then roll it on the counter with your hand."

I just want a lime I can squeeze, man.

When I began my career in journalism back in the bronze age, praedial larceny was an oft-covered story.

I once reported on a spate of cattle rustling in south Trinidad. Livestock farmers would return to the field where they'd left their cattle grazing, only to find severed heads. The rest of the carcasses were butchered and hauled away under the cover of night.

Later in my career, I worked with a young man who reared goats as a side hustle. Thieves soured any ambitions he had of making a serious go at animal husbandry.

Now, the last thing we need to do in this country is dash the hopes of young people investing in agriculture; not if we want to stop bellyaching about the food import bill and soaring food prices. As it happens, though, we specialise in doing the last thing we should.

Crop and livestock theft is more common than the average civilian might think. That's because the average civilian probably doesn't think about it at all. The dangers of allowing this species of crime to go unchecked are nothing to scoff at.

There's the economic cost: buying fruits and vegetables that never ripen properly and are consequently discarded. When two out of five mangoes don't ripen but shrivel, those costs add up over time. An avocado can cost $25. Whenever I buy these piper favourites I feel like I'd get better odds betting on a cockfight.

Not everyone is flush enough to withstand the monthly losses. Food prices in the grocery are already ridiculous. No one needs to add to those climbing expenses fruit and veg that aren't any good.

Beyond money, praedial larceny has the potential to harm our health. When thieves steal and butcher livestock, the public can't know the conditions under which the meat is processed and stored. Many consumers buy their meats in markets or from itinerant butchers. Thieves aren't concerned with the health of the end users, they just want fast money.

As is the case with most challenges hobbling this country, praedial larceny has only become exponentially worse. It's a problem that's never been taken seriously by the authorities.

Before you say we need stronger laws, existing laws are fairly sweeping. The Praedial Larceny Act stipulates that anyone suspected of the crime can face a fine of between $7,000 and $30,000 and even face four years in prison. A dedicated praedial larceny unit was established in 2013.

As is the case with crimes of violence against people, the weakness lies in enforcement. Farmers have complained for as long as I can remember that larceny squads have been inadequate and ineffectual. Statistics are hard to come by, but a report estimated that theft across the industry in TT resulted in more than US$11 million lost over just six months. That statistic is already 11 years old.

From stolen fishing nets and boat engines to agro-processing equipment, fruits and vegetables – ultimately, the consumer pays. Passed-on costs, food instability and risks to human health are all hidden perils that consumers must shoulder.

Aggressively clamping down on praedial larceny is a matter of both national security and food security. From the reports I've received, these criminal gangs are becoming more organised and violent. The repercussions for the economy and our communities echo far beyond the agricultural sector.


"How praedial larceny robs consumers"

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