A Vermont farmer who is almost a monthly victim of theft says that the problem is such that he has had to cut his workforce by half.
Stephen Watson has been farming pineapples in the Francois Valley for the past seven years, enjoying some levels of success after having attempted to successfully grow other agricultural crops.
But he appealed to iWitness News last month to tell the story of the impact that praedial larceny is having on the farm.
Watson, who was born in England of Jamaican parents, moved to St. Vincent with his Vincentian wife and their daughters just under a decade ago.
His real love was music so they tried operating a restaurant and bar in Kingstown, but abandoned the idea after not enjoying much success.
Then he learnt that there were some agricultural lands in his wife’s family.
The 51-year-old man, who lives in Penniston, said he did not enjoy much success with eddoes, which is the main crop grown in the area.
Carrots and dasheen yielded similar unsatisfactory results.
Then, he was introduced to the pineapple growers association and with their assistance and that of the Taiwan agricultural mission in St. Vincent, Watson acquired the skill for growing pineapples, the demand for which outstrips local supply.
And, it seems that it is that same demand that is making Watson’s farm a target.
He told iWitness News that he is having “real problems with theft”.
“I will normally produce pines every month and I’m having theft I’d say two weeks into that month. The thieves will come in and steal my pine,” Watson told iWitness News.
Not only are the thieves harvesting before the farmer does, but they sometimes chop up the young fruits.
Watson said the problem is having a big impact on the financial operations of the farm — Emerald Valley Pineapples.
“I used to employ two regular guys full time and now I can only employ one,” he said, adding that he loses about EC$800 monthly because of theft.
Watson told iWitness News that the local market “can’t get enough pineapple — with the Grenadines, the supermarkets, in town.
“I’m looking to expand because the demand is very high,” he said.
He said that, initially, he had not seen much action by the police.
But on Independence Day, Oct. 27, he found himself at the Criminal Investigation Department in Kingstown filing a report about theft on his farm.
Watson said he suspected that the pineapples were being shipped to Canouan and the police set up a checkpoint at the Grenadines Wharf.
Police searched the suspect but they did not have any of the fruits with them.
“… this last occasion, I think something was done, but in the past, no; very lax,” he said of the response of law enforcement.
Watson told iWitness News that praedial larceny is a “massive” problem in the area.
“And if it’s not produce, it’s animals,” he said.
He said he knows that there are rural constables in Vermont, but only sees them in the villages, rather than patrolling the farm areas where the theft of agricultural produce is prevalent.
Watson told iWitness News that he believes that the problem can be alleviated if police and rural constables make more patrols in the farm areas that are most targeted by thieves.