Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. David Estwick.
New Act introduced to combat praedial larceny
Government has introduced a piece of legislation aimed at bringing a much-needed halt to praedial larceny in this country, thereby protecting the livelihoods of local farmers.
Piloting the Protection of Agricultural Products and Livestock Bill in the House of Assembly yesterday morning, Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. David Estwick, said that the Bill was long overdue. His comments came as he explained that the Bill will impact not only crop and livestock farmers, but those who trade in agricultural produce as well, requiring both to be registered to carry out their specific business activities. Moreover, the Minister said that there will be stiff penalties for anyone who contravenes the provisions of the Act.
With that in mind, Minister Estwick outlined the provisions of the Bill, which he said will be administered by the Chief Agricultural Officer (CAO). According to him, the Bill states that the CAO must maintain a register of farmers and vendors of agricultural produce, and the post of praedial larceny wardens is to be created to keep a watchful eye on the sector.
These wardens, he said, will be required to inspect the registration of farmers and vendors; ensure that retailers obtain certificates of purchase in respect of agricultural products; and detect the commission of an offence under the Act. The agricultural minister added that the wardens will also have the power to apprehend a person found committing an offence under the Act. He added that the wardens will also have the power to stop and search vehicles suspected to be carrying stolen produce and seize any agricultural products or livestock which may be found in the vehicles.
“These provisions were reviewed by the constabulary and the Commissioner of Police and they have been given their full support,” he stated.
He went on to say that any person who fails to comply with the directions given by a praedial larceny warden or obstructs a warden in the execution of his duties is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction, to a fine of $5 000 or imprisonment for three years, or both.
“We have to take this matter seriously and until you have the capacity to inspect wherever agricultural products are being sold and being produced, you cannot weed out those persons who are illicitly vending stolen produce,” he contended.
Minister Estwick, noting that all farmers will have to be registered, indicated that failure could result in them being found guilty of an offence and make them liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5 000 or imprisonment for three years. He added that vendors will also be mandated to register. This, he said, is intended to ensure that there is traceability of all agricultural produce.
He said that the matter must be taken seriously as selling agricultural products for human and animal consumption carries public health risks, and the only way to protect persons is through a registration process. Estwick said he has no doubt the public will understand and support the Act, as they will recognise that the measures are intended to protect their health.
“It is therefore critical that we understand at the outset that foods consumed under these circumstances ... pose a risk to human health and animal public health. Therefore, it is imperative that we appreciate the necessity to be able to trace a public health outbreak Mr. Speaker, not only to the site at which that item is produced, but also for epidemiological purposes to be able to trace where that item is sold,” he said.
He added that anyone found in possession of agricultural products or livestock, and fails to produce a certificate, receipt, bill of lading or proof of ownership as required, they will be guilty of an offence and will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $10 000 or imprisonment for five years, or both. He said this approach acts as more of a deterrent than what presently obtains and should see a reduction in praedial larceny. (JRT)