The nationwide curfew which was aimed at keeping citizens inside during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is not working in favour of several Bon Air, Arouca, farmers who are under siege by thieves who continue to religiously raid their farms during lockdown hours.
In the last week, farmers Davanand Jadoo, Renold Williams, Narad Jadoo, Pooran Soochit and Vinod Jadoo have had $15,000 worth in lettuce, chive, sweet pepper, ochro, caraille, seedlings and irrigation lines stolen from their large scale farms.
The Jadoos suffered $10,000 in losses while Soochit and Williams had approximately $5,000 in crops and agricultural supplies pilfered during the curfew hours.
President of the Bon Air East Farmers’ Association Frank Ali, who represents the five affected farmers, admitted that since the imposition of the eight hour curfew and State of Emergency (SoE) last month his members have been under regular attack by the criminal elements.
Bon Air is one of the country’s food baskets.
Ali strongly believes other farmers may have been targetted by the roaming thieves, but have not made official reports to the association.
“The farmers who were targetted did not even report the matter to the police or the Praedial Larceny Squad because no one is ever arrested. They are frustrated.”
The bandits, Ali said, have been making nightly visits on the farms.
However, last weekend they intensified their stealing, taking with them truckloads of crops under the cover of darkness.
“When these farmers inside their homes and cannot come out because of the curfew these bandits stealing at their leisure and pleasure. They realise nobody outside so they walking around free and doing what they please,”Ali said, in a telephone interview yesterday.
In the height of the raging pandemic, Ali revealed, praedial larceny in Bon Air has soared.
“It is rampant. We need to figure out how can we protect farms across the country during this lockdown.”
Ali said it was customary for some farmers to patrol their fields at nights to safeguard their crops outside of the SoE and curfew.
“Now they have to stay indoors while the bandits have a field day with their crops. The farmers want to abide by the law.
“This is a very dangerous time we live in. I would not recommend to my farmers to venture out during the curfew hours to guard their fields because they could be confronted by armed criminals. I would prefer that the people who are trained to deal with these individuals patrol the area and do what they have to.”
Many of the farmers, Ali said, were tempted to stake out their agricultural plots after midnight but he has advised against the move.
“Their livelihoods are being threatened and when the farmers cannot cultivate their crops the citizens of this country will suffer by extension because they will feel it at the groceries and markets…the prices will go up.”
He said prices of some locally grown crops such as lettuce, cauliflower, lettuce, melongene, tomatoes and caraille have already begun to increase at markets and supermarkets.
When people cannot afford the prices of produce, Ali said, they would tempted to steal from a farm.
“When prices start to go up praedial larceny increases as well. This happens especially during the rainy season.”
Ali said prior to the SoE and curfew, some of his farmers were occasionally targeted by bandits.
But now it’s a different story.
“These criminals are really brazen…they breaking the curfew to steal.
“If this trend continues this could be the beginning of something much bigger we could face. In one week bandits invaded the farms of five farmers. I don’t know what the numbers would be a week from now.
“This situation makes the farmers very uneasy. It is also discouraging.”
Ali pleaded for regular patrols by the Praedial Larceny Squad (PLS) and T&T Police Service during the curfew hours
Farmer Jadoo (Davanand) told Guardian Media that hours before bandits carted away $3,000 worth of his lettuce, he sprayed the leafy crop with Cobalt, an insecticide.
“Just imagine these criminals selling this lettuce to vendors and supermarkets who don’t know better which the consumer would later purchase and consume,”Jadoo said.
Director of the PLS, acting Supt Murchinson Alexis told Guardian Media that his officers had been patrolling agricultural areas.
“Remember a patrol is drive-by. If you planning to thief something and we drive by…when we gone…you would still thief it. So we don’t have static patrol. Trinidad is a very big place.”
On Wednesday, Alexis said, his squad patrolled Bon Air but received no reports of praedial larceny.
The lockdown, he said, has pushed criminals who were involved in the drug and gun trades to do other crimes.
“Now everybody turned to praedial larceny because they have no other means.”
Murchinson said the PLS hadfaced setbacks during the pandemic similar to the T&T Police Service.
“Just like everybody else, we have officers in quarantine. That will affect us.”
The shortfall in officers sometimes, Murchinson said, would hinder their performance.
“But we have been trying our best.”
Murchinson promised to look into the farmers’ plight.