RADHICA DE SILVA

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Despite the ongoing State of Emergency and curfew, yet another agricultural camp has been set on fire at Iere Village in Princes Town as thieves continue to steal thousands of dollars worth of produce under the cover of darkness.

The latest fire occurred on Sunday at a camp owned by farmer Dale Samaroo.

Several paw paw trees laden with fruit were scorched and over $40,000 worth of equipment, fertilisers, weedicides and other chemicals were totally destroyed in the fire.

Speaking with Guardian Media, farmer Ramsumair Hanuman said this was the third camp to be set on fire since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since restrictions started last March, larceny has increased in the community where farmers cultivate over 100 acres of land.

“It is frustrating because we spend so much time and energy working in our garden and when we leave here the thieves pass through and steal anything they could get,” Hanuman lamented.

He said all his tilapia from his pond as well as the fingerlings were also stolen during the SoE.

“We are appealing to the Prime Minister to please look into this. You want food? We can produce 100 acres but the thieves are going with everything. It is not fair. Whole day we spend in the garden doing work and before we could reap, they are stealing everything. It is real stress,” he said.

Meanwhile, another farmer Steve Heeralal said Samaroo’s camp had been outfitted with video surveillance and this was probably why it was set on fire.

“Before COVID and the curfew we used to watchman our garden but now with the curfew in place, we the citizens cannot come out but the bandits could come out. They coming and thieving out everything. They burning down our sheds. It doesn’t have anything we could do. It cost $20,000 to install a good system but they defeating the system by burning everything down,” Heeralal said.

He explained that magistrates have been too lenient with thieves.

“If they get caught they getting more and more chances. The magistrate is giving them a simple fine. The bandits seem happy that they could thief $20,000 worth of produce and they will get fined $3,000 if they get caught. Or they will serve a six months jail and come back out in three and a half months to thief all over again,” Heeralal said.

Another farmer Radhay Samaroo said he was also suffering from theft.

“It sad. They thief out my goods many times. They thief out the chemicals. We have to be struggling to go again. Plenty losses it have here and we have to just start back afresh,” he added.

The farmers say while the police patrol the area, the thieves always seemed to be one step ahead.

Samaroo said strangers pass through the agricultural fields during the day to scope out the harvest. And when darkness falls, they raid the fields, stealing anything they could find.

The farmers are calling on the Minister of Agriculture to meet with them with the hope of getting some kind of assistance to restart their crop.

Contacted for comment, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat said people involved in agriculture who have legal issues relating to the State of Emergency Regulations, can contact the TTPS hotline.

“This has replaced the need for curfew permits for activities during the curfew period,” Rambharat added.