One of the most frustrating challenge in farming is theft of farm equipment and products.
Spades, wheelbarrows, and other tools often go missing forcing farmers to spend money replacements. Farmers also suffer untold losses when thieves steal their farm produce such as coffee, vanilla, bananas, and other items including livestock. Farmers do not only worry about impediments such as long droughts, floods, pests, and crop or animal diseases but they also worry about losses arising from farm thefts.
What often leads to farm theft and what can be done to minimize them?
Mr Umaru Kityo, an agronomist in UVAN Ltd, (Uganda Vanilla) says, “For us in the vanilla farming business we refer to this nuisance as stealing and destroying the crop because most thieves steal both the vanilla beans and the vines as well. But I will begin with telling you that most farm thefts take place at night, during the day, especially around lunch time, and when it is raining. The thieves take advantage of the time when the field is deserted. Our other observation is that most farm thefts are organised by the farm’s household members in partnership with other people outside the farming household. Some thieves actually are in many cases members of the homestead from which the items are stolen.”
Measures to take
He blames such thefts on lack of gender equity in farming.
“Vanilla is a high value crop and all members of the farming household should benefit when it is finally harvested and sold. However what happens in many homesteads is that the man takes full possession of the harvested crop and sells it and goes ahead to squander the money in bars or by marrying a second or third wife,” says Kityo, adding “The husband is not always ready to provide accountability for the money earned from the sale of vanilla. His grownup children and their mother then begin wondering how they too can benefit from the effort they made looking after the crop. They have such needs as school fees and clothing etc.”
“So they devise ways of getting some income out of their family farmed crop. They then either ‘steal’ the vanilla themselves from their own farm or arrange with what we call early buyers to secretly sell off the stolen vanilla. In other cases they will tip the thieves about the times when the husband and other members of the household will be away so that they can visit the garden to do their thing with no disturbance. Most often farm thefts take place with the full knowledge of a household member.”
Deploy security guards
Kityo recommends the use of security guards to protect the farm but he also warns that such guards should never be allowed to walk into the farm.
“They should rather keep around the farm and not inside the farm because it is difficult to trust them with a crop such as vanilla. Banks never allow security guards to sleep inside the banking halls. A guard can steal one vanilla bean from each plant and hide the loot in pockets or in his gum boots and you may never notice that over time he has stolen tens of kilogrammes. It is always good to put a fence around your farm and to keep dogs that will always back at strangers.
If a shopkeeper puts a strong padlock on the door of his shop why shouldn’t the farmer lock up his enterprise?”
In case of animals, branding them with ear tags and tattoos helps to differentiate your livestock from others.
It is also essential to have dogs and train them not to eat anything strange. The dogs will help deal with animals such as porcupines, mongooses and monkeys, among others, and raise the alarm in case they see something strange on the farm.
Kityo further advises farmers to be careful about hosting strangers on their farms.
“Sometimes the people who come pretending to learn farming skills from you are usually interested in finding out what there is to steal and how to access it. They make observations of the security gaps on your farm and find out where it is best to pass and steal the vanilla.”
Kityo makes reference to a recent case in Kisozi Sub-county, Kayunga District, where thieves including white men recently visited a farm claiming to be interested in buying vanilla.
The poor farmer reportedly took them all around the farm showing them how good his crop was but the following night all the vanilla on the farm was stolen.
Farmers must understand that anyone can be a thief can be a thief no matter their race.
Keep good relations with neighbours who can be a source of information in case they see something suspicious. These neighbours can be fellow farmers or households that neighbour your farm.
“Lastly we encourage our farmers to form groups and to go in groups to the police station to take a thief,” says Kityo. He also warned farmers about the need to purchase their own weighing scales to have an exact weight of their vanilla so that when middlemen come with fake scales they are in a position to know if they are being cheated.
Mr Sowedi Sserwadda, chairman of Kibinge Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society, told Seeds of Gold, “The thieves who go into farmers gardens at night to harvest the crop are responsible for poor quality coffee. The farmers that would wait for their coffee to ripen before picking it are forced to pick it quickly even when it is still green to avoid losing it to the thieves. Some of the thieves also steal the coffee right from the yards at night. In our area farmers are advised to check their coffee fields all the time and to immediately call the police to bring sniffer dogs to the scene. We have had a number of thieves arrested with the help of police dogs. We also encourage our farmers to operate in groups and to exercise vigilance in regard to garden protection, especially at night when the thieves mostly do their act.”
Mr Walakira Ssendi, a prominent farmer in Masaka District is of the view that farm protection against thieves depends of the size of the farm.
“A small scale farmer cannot afford to pay personnel to safeguard his farm. Such a farmer must learn to confuse the thieves so that they do not know when to invade his farm. He can do this by regularly walking in his farm especially during the time of the day when most people are in their homes, like during lunch time, and even on Sundays. He should buy a torch and once in a while walk in the garden at night. When people notice that the farmer frequently walks in his farm especially after seeing the light of a torch in the dark they think twice before going there to steal.”
Ssendi goes on to say, “For a large scale farmer it is advisable to keep dogs and to walk with them regularly in the farm. The dogs come to know the geography of the farm and to go there on their own to scare away strangers that may find their way into the farm.”
He further says that a farmer should keep an accurate record of all farm equipment and inputs including the number of his livestock for him to know if some of them are missing.
Ssendi also advises large scale farmers to set a prize for individuals that report a thief on the farm. “Be friendly to the village local council and make it clear that you have a cash prize of perhaps Shs100,000 or more for anybody that leads to the successful arrest of a thief on your farm. And once he is arrested and brought before you ask him to make a written confession that he has been caught stealing from your farm. You may forgive him after that but it is good to tell him that if a theft takes place again he will be the first suspect. Most often they don’t repeat it. But you can still decide to take the matter to the police if he is not repentant.”
Ssendi discourages the use of private security guards. “Many of them are of doubtful character. Remember you pay the security company about Shs300,000 but they only give him a gun and pay him half of what you pay the company. Yet you have to feed him. Many of them have gang networks which they will tell about any business transactions that you make like when you sell the eggs or cows. That is when they will arrange to invade your home tie him on a tree take away his gun and then rob you of everything they want from your home. It is possible for the farmer to solicit his own guards and they don’t have to hold guns. A flashlight, whistle, and a stick are enough.”