As sinister as it may sound, there are people who would argue that nations may not be in favour of the total eradication of certain illegal activities, especially those that provide some of its citizens with the basic needs. They would claim that it’s arguably so in the case of praedial larceny – the theft of agricultural produce. Normally, poor people with access to land produce most of what they need for consumption, and surpluses are offered up for sale to generate revenue to purchase other essential supplies. Lately, however, the food security of many in the rural communities in Saint Lucia has been threatened by the growing prevalence of praedial larceny. An Issue Brief by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (2013) on praedial larceny in the wider region, the Caribbean, noted that it is the most extensive among all crimes committed based on the number of persons and families affected. The FAO report indicated “more than 90% of producers regionally agree that it is the single greatest disincentive to investment in the sector”.
Locally, it is widely believed that a number of drug addicts are responsible for these acts, selling the stolen goods in order to finance their habit. In most cases it is alleged that the stolen goods are sold to local vendors at rock-bottom prices. The previously cited FAO Issue Brief had this to say: “Regionally the largest share of the produce stolen (27%) is disposed of in the higgler/huckster trade which is dominated by rural women, most of whom are single, vulnerable household heads and with no other source of income”.
In addition to the loss of revenue to producers, the health and safety of consumers are at risk as reports indicate that persons may at times consume produce that is not ready for consumption due to recent treatment with potent and carcinogenic agrochemicals. Needless to say, the perpetrators do not keep records and observe withholding periods – “the minimum period of time that must elapse between the last application of an agricultural or veterinary (agvet) chemical product, and the ‘use’ of the agricultural produce to which the chemical was applied”.
In an attempt to address the situation, many drug addicts and others have since found themselves in prison, some repeatedly. But this particular response may not curb the habit once the outlet to dispose of the stolen goods is available. Data from the local police force seems to suggest that the number of convictions is relatively low, evidenced by the few cases dealt with by the courts compared to the number of incidents. During the period 2000 to 2010, over 2,000 cases were reported yet less than 200 were dealt with by the courts. Furthermore, the FAO (2013) indicated that only 45% of incidences are reported to the police regionally due to frustration with inaction by authorities.
Most producers would agree that greater efforts should be made to apprehend and convict persons who knowingly buy or consume stolen produce. This, however, is not as easy as it may sound given this further find by the FAO (2013): “Data suggests that just over 35% of produce stolen at the regional level is used for household food and other needs in the home.” Regrettably, whatever the solution, there are foreseeable moral and social implications.