Local farmers are complaining about the high incidence of praedial larceny that has been plaguing them for some time, with no apparent end to the worrisome issue.
Erica Phillip, the public relations officer (PRO) for the Southwest Farmers Market, says the problem has grown increasingly worse.
Phillip says that a meeting was held last month with the Praedial Larceny Committee in the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss solutions to the issue, since farmers are suffering.
In April 2021, Victor Wade, the northwest agricultural district officer, said the Division – in collaboration with the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) – had begun erecting solar lights in areas where farms are located.
The Agriculture Extension Division had been making moves to assist farmers affected by praedial larceny. Wade had expressed the hope, then, that the frequent thefts would be significantly reduced as a result of that initiative.
Meanwhile, farmers are still complaining that the roads to their farms are almost inaccessible, despite the promise to repair them. Also in 2021, construction work had commenced on the Creekside Road with other areas earmarked for similar repairs.
Government officials had said that the roads were being repaired not only to accommodate farmers, but for police vehicles to be able to get to these farms safely in case a crime was reported.
The water situation reportedly was also being addressed, then; however, many farmers, in addition to households, continue to struggle with the persistent water shortage.
This year, in his 2023 Budget Presentation, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that Government will continue to provide resources to help build resilience in the agriculture sector. He said it would introduce new technologies to combat high heat, water scarcity and hurricane damage. However, no plans to tackle praedial larceny were unveiled.
Browne also spoke about providing concessions to farmers and ensuring they can access affordable insurance coverage.
He addressed the water issue by saying the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) will invest US$14 million in another Reverse Osmosis Plant, which will be located in Bethesda – bringing total daily production to over 10 million gallons.
This, however, is not specifically for the benefit of farmers.
He claimed that output in agriculture continued to expand in 2022, as livestock and crop production increased, growing the sector by a further 2 per cent. Browne claimed this was a reflection of his administration’s ongoing investment and support for farmers.
However, two livestock farmers say they beg to differ. One, a retired businessman, says the prime minister should be asked how much of that growth was enjoyed by “the average farmer and how much by Cabinet ministers that have muscled in on the market.”
It is widely known that Browne, himself, is a major player in the crop production side of the business, while several other ministers are rumoured to be players in the poultry industry.