(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — Frustrated with years of ongoing theft of their produce and livestock by heartless criminals, several farmers in south Clarendon have made the painful decision to abandon farming while others are moving away from rearing goats, which have now become prime targets for thieves.
The farmers have also been forced to endure almost daily attacks.
In a recent Sunday Observer article headlined ‘Goats stolen to fund gangs’, based on information from the police it emerged that goat-stealing had become the leading criminal activity in the parish, and proceeds from the illegal trade were being used to fuel the daily running of established gangs and sustain their members.
The article also reported that goat meat has become one of the popular elements in the drugs-for-guns trade, in which Jamaican criminals swap drugs for weapons from the northern Caribbean island of Haiti.
Last week the Jamaica Observer travelled to sections of Palmer’s Cross and Hayes in Clarendon to speak with farmers and assess how they were being affected by praedial larceny, and how they were coping.
Nearly all of the farmers who spoke to the paper’s news team said they were affected and have now reached their breaking point, as they don’t know how to combat the scourge of praedial larceny.
Some were also of the view that their animals were being stolen to fund criminal activities while others disagreed, saying their animals were being stolen by unemployed youth.
President of the Cane Farmers’ Association Group Seven, Ronald Richardson said most goat farmers in Hayes, Lionel Town and other areas in the southern end of the parish were getting out of the business because of praedial larceny, when the Sunday Observer visited the Raymonds section of Hayes.
“Most of the farmers sell out dem goat; the cow nuh so bad but if you have 50 goats in a pen and when yuh wake up yuh nuh find none, way yuh ago do,” he asked. “Most of the farmers are selling chicken and some have abandoned farming completely.
“You have farmers who had 40 plus and more goats but nuh have none now, and you have farmers who were interested but say dem naa start again,” the farmers group president added.
Richardson said he too had decided to move away from goat rearing because of constant theft.
The 59-year-old said, “Mi born a farmer and mi use to raise pigs, goats, and chicken, but everything small yah now ’cause mi a get a beating, so mi caa go big.
“Mi did have bout 60 goats but mi come dung to four now ’cause them thief off most of it. And when me look and see them kill two of our farmers, cut off dem head and tek wey dem goat, me tek mi time cut it down and come out a goat farming,” he said.
Richardson said he has now diverted his efforts to rearing chickens, as the thieves are not focusing on that right now.
When asked if he knew what was behind the rampant theft of goats, he shared the view that it was being done as a part of the meat-for-guns trade.
According to him, Jamaican gangsters in Clarendon were trading meat for guns with their Haitian counterparts, and at one point it was donkey meat that was being used instead of goat flesh.
“Mi use to have 13 donkeys and dem kill dem and send dem meat go Haiti. Quite a few farmers met the same fate; a nuh mi one but them turn on goat meat now.
“Dem leave from donkey and go cow one time, but through dat cheap dem lock it off … and not only meat, all you pumpkin and other produce dem reap and carry go trade,” Richardson pointed out.
“The thief dem wey a come now have gun and are aligned to gangs, because they are a part of the meat-for-guns trade,” he further said.
However, Richardson said the police had been of great assistance.
“The police help we out a lot. Anytime you call them come, any hours a night them come,” he said.
But at the same time Richardson said that while the police may have thwarted the theft on a particular night, the thieves leave but will return and keep coming back until they are successful.
“The problem we have is that we naa get no help from the politicians; most time we send and invited dem a meeting and dem nuh turn up,” he added.
Additionally, he said the farmers in his community had come together and formed a farmers watch group but some of the members had relatives who were stealing the goats, and after he spoke up about it the group fell apart.
Another farmer in the district, Doctavos Gordon, said he too has given up goat rearing after several attacks from thieves.
“Mi sell out. Mi use to raise goats and chicken and through the thief me stop ’cause mi no waa kill nobody — ’cause that will follow you first, second and third generation,” said the 69-year-old farmer who has been involved in farming for 18 years and had as many as 54 goats.
In the meantime both farmers said they were rejoicing, as one of the goat thieves was recently shot dead by a gunman in the community and they hope others will meet the same fate.
“We glad fi dat. Even family members say dem glad de disgrace gone and not even inna dem yard him caa bury,” Richardson revealed.
Nearby in a another community in Hayes, Sonia Smith, a caregiver for 85-year-old Renford Chambers, who is now blind, said that just last month his farm was hit by thieves who stole 23 goats, valued at around $15,000 each, and none has since been found.
“About 50 head or more dem thief from last year to now,” she said.
Smith said Renford is unable to continue rearing but his sons have stepped in despite the setbacks presented by thieves, and they have decided to carry on.
In Palmer’s Cross and Lionel Town the story was similar.
Glester Lyn, who was seen carrying his cows to bushes on Rum Lane in Palmer’s Cross, said he has been affected and as a result has now decided to rear mainly cows.
“From time to time me lose; a just faith me a go by now. About a month ago dem thief a young heifer valued at $60,000.
“I had bout 30 heads of goats and dem tek most of dem; about four lef. Mi naa bada wid it, dem thief it too hard,” he stated. “People only a buy goat fi cooking purpose now.
“One time dem use to thief a one goat; now dem a come fi the whole herd and dem a come wid gun and tell yu nuffi come out,” Lyn also added.
The farmer, who has been in the business for 40 years, said the thieves are discouraging several farmers from their livelihood, resulting in most selling out the goats that they had.
However, he said he does not plan on quitting farming anytime soon because it is something that he loves.
“As long as dem nuh thief the whole a dem one time,” he remarked.
Lyn, when asked about the profitability of farming in light of the issue said, “One time gone it used to be very profitable and it can be profitable, but because of the thief dem, as dem see it come up dem come tek fi dem share. Dem always coming for fi dem share and it is getting worse and worse.”
Nevertheless, he further pointed out, “Even now it can still be profitable if you serious, and if we get rid of the thieves we can survive.”
However, while most of the farmers attested to being victims of praedial larceny, one farmer said he has never been hit by thieves in all of his 20 years of goat rearing, even though all the other farmers in his district have been affected.
Roland Smith, who lives in the community of Breezy Castle in Hayes, said his job as a district constable may have warded off possible attacks from thieves.
According to Smith, who currently has 100 goats, goat rearing for him has been very profitable over the years but the thieves are destroying the business.
“Mi start with fours goats and me sell more than 200 goats already,” he said.
But Smith said so bad is the theft in his area that most of the farmers have stopped rearing goats, leaving only four farmers including himself. He said the fear of death was also one of the major factors in the farmers’ decision to quit.
“The whole parish festering with goat criminals,” he said.
Worse, Smith said, “If dem see three goats tie out deh suh dem nuh waa dat, dem waa 50, 60, 70. Dem come wid dem fish net and jus run dem up in deh,” he said, explaining how the thieves have managed to capture so many of the goats at once.
According to Smith the problem is bigger than the police.
“This is a problem mi nuh know how it ago solve. You haffi go get every young man involve in a work — too much idle people about. The only solution is employment,” he stressed.
“Nuff a dem have woman and nuff a dem have children. Which man ago lay down in a dem house and starve? Dem ago find something to thief,” Smith said.
He, however, did not share the view that goats were being stolen to fund gang activities or that it is a part of the swap for guns, noting that if that were so the animal thieves, when they are caught, would be heading in the direction of the coast instead of in the opposite direction.
“A just thief the man dem thief,” Smith reasoned.
The Clarendon police said that they had on record reports that 870 goats were stolen in the parish between January 2017 and August 15, 2018. The police also revealed that 568 or 65 per cent of the 870 goats were taken from their rightful owners last year. Since January 1, there have been reports of 302 goats being stolen in the Clarendon Police Division. The number of reports of larceny of goats since this year is 113, the police said.
The police pointed out that the southern zone of the Clarendon Police Division accounted for 723 or 83 per cent of the number of goats stolen in the parish. The areas hardest hit are Exeter, Hayes, Milk River and Lionel Town.