Let's stop farm thieves, even as we bring science to agriculture

Monday, August 06, 2018

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For the dwindling number of people who can clearly remember the birth of the independent Jamaican nation in 1962, a major disappointment is agriculture.

Back in '62, Jamaica prided itself on being a leading producer of primary agricultural produce. Far more so then, than is the case today, agriculture was a cornerstone of the Jamaican economy.

The promise back then was of modernisation to include the increasing use of available technology and the development of thriving value-added agricultural industries.

Today, 56 years since gaining political independence, agriculture remains crucial to economic stability and the promise of sustainable growth.

Sadly, however, primary farm production has fallen away badly in most instances, and far too many farmers remain stuck in time with their machete and hoe. Saddest of all, perhaps, value-added agricultural production lags, with growth sluggish at best.

Yet, if we are to listen to 19-year-old Ebony Park HEART Academy student Mr Daneele Moody, all is not lost.

It helps, of course, that Mr Moody finds farming to be “fun and interesting”. Pointing to evolving technologies, such as hydroponics and other “fresh, new ways to plant food”, Mr Moody tells us that, in his view, farmers should see themselves as “scientists”.

We are inclined to suspect that Mr Moody speaks of science not in any abstract way but as a means to helping farmers to make money from their work and industry. For therein lies the crux of the problem. Farming is hard work, but far too many practitioners end up with nothing to show for it.

Droughts, floods, market gluts, and farm thieves — who watch and wait while the crop matures then pounce — have conspired to make farming a 'no, no' for many people.

We note the pledge from Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw that the Government has the back of the farmers.

Among other things, Mr Shaw is promising increased factory space for agro-processing, citing the old AMC complex on Spanish Town Road which is to be revamped for the purpose. This, he says, is in response to increased demand from manufacturers and processors. Hopefully, other such projects will find fertile ground around the country.

We expect that the private entrepreneurial sector will seize the opportunities for profit. We are aware that there are a few Jamaican companies which have done exactly that down the years. We urge redoubled effort.

But we dare not forget that a major turn-off is the high incidence of farm theft. It's loosely estimated that billions of dollars in farm produce (crops as well as livestock) are lost annually to thieves.

This newspaper has argued, and we say again, that the overworked, under-resourced, inadequately manned police force can't be expected to effectively curb praedial larceny all on its own.

The answer lies in improved community organisation and the nurturing of community leadership. Central to all this must be concentrated organisation of farmers to help themselves. We are not advocating vigilante squads. However, we believe that well planned and organised farm-watch programmes incorporating farmers, guided by the constabulary, and operating strictly within the limits of the law would influence many would-be thieves to find a new way of making a living. Let's do it.

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