Praedial Larceny: Organized Crime In The Caribbean Using Flying Drones.

Photo: Falco Ermert/Flickr. Going bananas? Banana plantations in Tenerife seen from a drone. A drone operated by a thief can zoom in close to see if bananas are ripe for picking.
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Bridgetown, Barbados–September 8th, 2020.

Licensed drone operators in Barbados’ airspace are now required to apply online to seek permission for each flight.

The Prime Minister’s Office has advised that to access and complete the application form, persons should go to this Web address .

The link also contains the guidelines for the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), commonly referred to as drones, so persons may review them before completing the form.

Members of the public are reminded of the six-month temporary suspension on the importation and licensing of drones, as well as parts to assemble them, which took effect from April 1, 2020.

However, it is possible to secure a temporary exemption, on a case-by-case basis, for the commercial use of drones, which are brought in for use and exported immediately after.  This request can also be done via the online application.

Over the years, a significant number of RPAS for commercial and recreational use have been allowed entry into the country. This has contributed to the unregulated increased usage of drones and the inability of the regulatory authorities to ascertain the total number of drones in operation.

Concerns have been raised in Barbados and internationally about the potential for criminal misuse and the risks posed to safety, security, and privacy by their unregulated use.

This prohibition on drones, which took effect in Barbados on April 1, 2016, was implemented to allow the authorities to complete a set of laws , which is now at an advanced stage, to govern the use of these devices and determine the number in operation in Barbados.

Drones are miniature helicopter-like devices that carry cameras that can record video, and are controlled by a hand-held control box, or sometimes even by a cell phone.

A good quality drone can be obtained online for about US$400.

One of the biggest concerns about drones is that criminals have used them for “praedial larceny”, a large-scale criminal enterprise that involves stealing farmer’s crops from fields, fish from fish farms, and livestock.

The drones are used to spy on valuable agricultural assets.

A Caribbean-wide study found that 98% of all producers surveyed had experienced produce theft, amounting to over 300,000 fisherfolk families and well over a million crop and livestock farmers.

More than 90% of those interviewed agreed that it was the single greatest disincentive to investment in agriculture.

Thefts have involved truckloads of bananas, a field of pineapples, or the contents of a fish-farming pond. Some aquaculture farmers have closed down their business because of heavy losses and high security costs.

In addition to its economic consequences, praedial larceny also has implications for food safety. There is a minimum time between application of a pesticide and when the produce can be harvested.

While farmers usually follow the recommendations, persons stealing a crop usually have no idea when the farmers applied the chemicals, thereby potentially endangering the lives of people who end up buying the produce.

Most Caribbean governments have passed legislation intended to protect against praedial larceny but this has been relatively unsuccessful. Steps taken have included farmer and trader registration, limits on the times when products can be transported, the requirement for traders to issue receipts and keep copies, steps to address traceability, a Praedial Larceny Offenders Registry, and a Praedial Larceny hotline.

In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, for example, farmers are required to be registered and issued with an ID Card, to place an identification mark on all agricultural produce or livestock being transported, to ensure the identification of the goods can be easily seen by the police, and to always be able to produce a valid farmers’ ID card, a seller’s certificate, and a receipt or other acceptable explanation for being in possession of the goods. 

But such measures have received little support in the Caribbean, from either farmers or the authorities and have had little impact. The use of heavy fines has been advocated in Jamaica.

Community policing by the farmers has possibilities as strangers can be monitored. Building fences can also offer some protection, although some farmers find the cost of these to be too high.

[This report contains information about praedial larceny in the Caribbean from Wikipedia.]


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