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Praedial Larceny Law to Protect Farmers and Support Diversification

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Wednesday, October 4, 2006 – Minister for Agriculture, Lands, Fisheries and Forestry, Honourable Ignatius Jean, says the impending introduction of new measures to outlaw stealing of farmers’ crops is an “indication that the government is anxious to support their efforts to produce and sell honestly in national the thrust to diversify the agricultural sector.”

A Bill to institute tough new measures against theft of agriculture produce went through its first reading when the House of Assembly met briefly on Tuesday.

The Praedial Larceny Bill, which replaces the current but outdated Praedial Larceny Act, gives the police the power, with reasonable suspicion, to immediately stop and search a person or vehicle suspected of being in possession of or transporting stolen produce. It will also give the police the power to arrest and seize stolen items and after conviction to restore, sell, dispose of and compensate for perishable agricultural produce.

Under the new law, it will also be unlawful for individuals to buy stolen agricultural produce and it will allow the police to pursue and search the premises of persons suspected of concealing or lodging stolen produce.

Minister Jean says, “With government actively encouraging diversification from bananas, it is important that farmers receive the required support to ensure their produce is not dishonestly harvested by thieves.”

The bill also provides for stiff fines and imprisonment.

Farmers have over many years been producing more and diversifying their crops, but they have also been plagued by increasing incidents of theft, which cause major loses in investment on their farms.

Mr Jean says the Bill “supports government's intentions to have an agricultural policy which will improve and strengthen the sector by protecting the farmers by strengthening the penalties and increasing the possibilities of pursuing and convicting praedial larceners.”

Government's policy of support to the agricultural sector has been aggressive. It has implemented massive projects to finance necessary infrastructural and production enhancing developments in the sector, the biggest share of which has been over a hundred million dollars ploughed into the banana industry.

To date, investments in tissue culture, irrigation and road rehabilitation in key banana producing areas have revived the fortunes of many farmers in the industry, who have over the years been able to maintain Saint Lucia’s position as the leading producer in the Windward Islands. (The island produces more than half the total production of the Windwards.)

The Agriculture Minister is also satisfied with the wider range of economic and production enhancing activities taking place generally in the agricultural sector.

Mr Jean said: “The government's record on support for the agricultural sector is indisputable, with some of the biggest investments in the banana industry being made in the last nine years to encourage farmers to maintain maximum possible production levels even in the face of the low prices and the challenges of Globalization.”

“It is an achievement we are proud of. We have moved the farmer from a subsistence existence to a situation where the farmer can look forward to a better quality of life,” the minister said of those who have successfully managed the transition from total dependence on a single crop.

The Praedial Larceny Bill will go through a second reading when the House of Assembly reconvenes on October 10th 2006 and the minister says it is “another example of the lengths we will go as a Government to encourage the farming community and protect their produce against illegal harvesting.”

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