Antigua’s agriculture minister Hilton Baptiste has voiced his personal support for farmers who ‘take the law into their hands against’ those who would rob them of their livelihood. “One of these days somebody is going to hurt somebody… You’re gonna hear farmers killing three or four people around the region and I will celebrate that, I not going cry! I will find the money to help those farmers to find lawyers to help themselves,” he told Friday’s opening session of the Caribbean Media Sensitization Workshop at the Grand Royal Antiguan Beach Resort.
Baptiste said as a child he spent time farming with his grandmother and despite the many technological advances it remains “hard backbreaking work”. For this reason, he empathized with farmers affected by praedial larceny. “When you produce you food and watch the trees and crops and somebody go and harvest them, it’s not just cry you want to cry, you want to kill somebody!” he said.
Lamenting that some 25 per cent of fruits, vegetables and livestock produced in Antigua and Barbuda is stolen, the agriculture minister suggested that it was the same for the region adding that the crime was organised to the extent that there was thriving intra-regional trade of stolen farm produce. He explained: “In Dominica they find export market for it. In Antigua, it’s going to Guadeloupe on boats. It’s a problem!”
Baptiste also cited a local example indicating that the failure of regional governments to provide redress or deal in a realistic way with praedial larceny has contributed to it’s perpetuation. According to Baptiste, on a visit to the farm where 180 roots of cassava had been stolen in one night, he was informed by the farmer that the matter had been reported to the police who were told that some of the produce was being sold in the market.
The police reportedly told the praedial larceny victim to get some soil from the cassava and have a comparative test done with the soil from his farm in order establish a definite connection. “What the poor farmer know about soil test?” the frustrated minister asked.
In Jamaica the crippling cost of praedial larceny has been estimated at J$6 billion per year. Despite the appointment of a Praedial Larceny Prevention Co-ordinator and the establishment of Farmers Watch – a community initiative aimed at getting people to share information about theft of farm produce – the problem remains unchecked. Meanwhile, Baptiste says in addition to the theft of crops and livestock farmers were also losing out big to scrap metal thieves who target their machinery and equipment. Farmers’ tractors are reportedly being stripped of wires and copper for export forcing the Antiguan government to ban the export of all copper.