Cunupia farmers are reporting huge losses of crops and equipment because of praedial larceny.
The situation has become so bad that some farmers are now living in their gardens day and night to the detriment of their family’s stability.
During an interview with Guardian Media, farmer Karan Mahabir said the larceny had worsened since COVID restrictions began.
“I have not gone home for three weeks because I cannot bear to see people thiefing out my crops. I spent over $40,000 to put down six acres of corn and every time I turn my back, they stealing what I plant,” he said. Mahabir explained that his greatest loss was the theft of a heavy-duty pump which he purchased and installed to irrigate his crops.
He said apart from thieves, security officers from a private firm who are claiming to be from the Estate Management Business Development Company (EMBD) have been threatening him and ordering him off the land.
Mahabir said he constructed a tower about 14 feet high to overlook his cornfields but the security officers have threatened to break it down saying all he was allowed to build was a ten foot by ten structure.
“I am the leaseholder of this land which I got from Caroni but they do not want to hear anything. I built the tower a little bit high so that I could watchman my crops. It is very hard for us to spend all this morning to put down a crop only to face this kind of stress,” Maharaj said.
Another farmer, Junior Madoo, said he also lost garden tools and a pump.
“On Wednesday I lost a water pump, drip hose and a lot of crops including corn and melon. People are passing through and stealing whatever they can get. The EMBD is trying to break down our camps if they feel it is too big. I am renting Caroni land and I have ten acres in productive agriculture. It cost me a lot to install a pump so that I can bring up water from half a mile away but now they have gone with the pump,” he added.
Even though Madoo made reports to the Cunupia police station, he said there has been no patrols or assistance.
A spokesman for the Jerningham Farmers Association Ganesh Seepersad said the farmers wanted assistance in setting up an on-farm storage facility so that the active farmers could store pumps and other equipment. He said they also wanted more frequent patrols by the Praedial Larceny Unit.
Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat said the first responder to praedial larceny was the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
“The Praedial Larceny Squad provides support. A lot of times when I ask for police reports, farmers have made none. If I get the specific farmers information I can share with the TTPS,” he said.
He was told that all of the farmers had lodged reports with TTPS.
With regard to the setting up of packing and storage facilities, Rambharat said, “There is a grant up to $100,000 and it specifically includes among other things construction of on-farm storage. I put that into the policy on account of meetings with Cunupia farmers. The first cheques are ready for distribution. I don’t know how many; who the farmers are; and what the money is being used for. These Cunupia farmers, if they have not applied, can do so. Forms are on the Ministry’s website.”
With regard to harassment from private security, Rambharat was unable to say whether the EMBD had hired a private security firm to safeguard State assets. He directed questions to EMBD chairman Ronnie Mohammed who confirmed that the private security firm named by the farmers had a contract with EMBD.