It is near dusk here in Glengoffee, a sleepy Jamaican village. Mr. Leslie, a farmer since his teen years, curiously patrols his property. He patiently counts his cattle, meticulously scans his vegetation and makes a mental note of all his farming assets. This is his painstaking eventide routine. Yet, he isn’t alone. He is among the more than 1 in 10 Jamaicans (280,000) directly affected by praedial larceny; more than a million are indirectly affected. Praedial larceny is an organized criminal activity geared at perpetuating the theft of agricultural stocks (Redpath 2010; JIS 2010). It is one of two key problems which are crippling the growth of Jamaica’s agricultural sector. The other challenge is a matter of information asymmetries which hinders the development of a culturally appropriate, efficient and effective marketing system. Having recognized these two key challenges (praedial larceny and information asymmetries/ineffective marketing), I will articulate solutions using Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in a novel and cost-effective manner. First, I will discuss the efficacy of agriculture in Jamaica.
It is pivotal that Jamaica responds to the problems noted for plaguing its agricultural sector for two primary reasons. First, agriculture accounts for a significant portion of the island’s economy, contributing nearly six percent to its gross domestic product and upwards of 20 percent of its total exports. In fact, the sector employs more than 1 in every 5 (21 percent) working members of the island’s labour force (CARICOM 2009). Second, despite the island’s productive capacity it is not self-sufficient in agricultural products. Upwards of 80 percent of the cereals/cereal products consumed locally are imported, as well as 12 percent of meat and fish. Even more calamitous, a rising proportion of fruits and vegetables consumed by Jamaicans are foreign grown (CARICOM 2009).
The Solution using ICT
Despite the importance of agriculture to the local economy, the two key challenges identified render it highly unattractive. Praedial larceny, for instance, is a vexing issue for farmers and ranks as perhaps the greatest disincentive to the diversification of the islands agricultural sector (George 2001). Jamaica’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dr. Christopher Tufton, says “every year more than J$5 billion in crops and livestock is stolen”, enough to cripple the ailing sector if left untamed (Redpath 2010; JIS 2010). The problem has bedevilled the island for generations and successive governments have bungled the institution of various measures to combat it. However, the most recent initiative is more cohesive. The Praedial Larceny Prevention Programme seeks to engender awareness about the seriousness of the act, and to ensure that this is reflected in the enforcement measures adopted by law enforcers. The plan also advocates the strengthening of existing laws coupled with stiffer penalties to discourage the practice, as well as the establishment of traceability systems to track the movement of food and animals at all stages. The involvement of various stakeholders in this initiative is also noteworthy (Jamaica-Gleaner 2009; JIS 2010).
However, the plan is more symptomatic rather than preventative as it doesn’t stop a thief from leaving the farmer’s premises with their goods. So, this is very much a matter of security. Farmers across the island have responded by experimenting with costly security options such as contracting a security company, perimeter fencing, and obtaining trained security dogs, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain (Thompson 2008; Brown 2007). Given the prevalence and cost effectiveness of various ICT applications locally, I believe a more reliable and efficient preventative system that utilizes this technology exists.
A Mobile Security Innovation
Consequently, I propose what my business partner at Exterbox, Rohan Smith, calls the Electronic Laser Fence Security Alert System-an “out of the box” idea that could curb this costly, ancient problem (2008). The proposed system is a mobile security innovation to combat praedial larceny. It brings together a mixture of security, electronics and mobile technology to tackle the issue. The system comprises of an invisible laser fence, installed around the area to be secured, which is linked to a mobile communication system. The mobile communication system can send SMS text messages or initiate voice calls to a list of predefined contacts. The integrity of the system is high because the laser fence is not detectable by uninformed intruders. It is also tamper-proof due to its design. There is a remote heartbeat mechanism which monitors the status of the laser fence and reports any operational abnormalities (Smith 2008).
The cost-effective Electronic Laser Fence Security Alert System will trigger an alert via SMS text messaging or by initiating a voice call to the owner’s mobile phone whenever an intruder crosses the laser protected perimeter of his farmland. This will enable the farmer to prevent the theft of his property as he can alert the relevant law enforcement personnel. This is integral as most victims of praedial larceny are not aware of the crime when it is occurring. Their knowledge of the garish act while it is happening will enable them to deter the perpetrators (Smith 2008).
Information Asymmetries/Poor Marketing
Having proposed a mobile security innovation to combat praedial larceny, I believe that the technology can also be used to address another agricultural plague, information asymmetries which inhibit efficient marketing. The economic livelihood of farmers has been hampered by ad hoc marketing systems and information asymmetries for centuries. This is because inadequate communication between producers and buyers results in inadequate planning, and ultimately an unstable market environment.
The problem is more acute today because of the omnipresence of corporate agro-industrial marketing strategies (Hall 2010). Thus, an integrated marketing system for local farming products is needed. This will aid the average farmer to overcome the structural and comparative disadvantages they endure. I envision that ICT may be used to link all the relevant players in the agricultural sector, so as to structure and strengthen the sector.
I propose a SMS Information Database (SMS ID) where farmers may post the cost of their products via SMS text messages or voice calls and retailers, middle-men, and consumers are able to request the lowest costs for a range of agricultural items via SMS text messages or voice calls. This central database for agricultural products cost information, SMS ID, enable farmers of all sorts to advertise their products and gain a better understanding of market trends and their competitors. SMS ID would therefore expose farmers to a larger market and ensure that they get the best price for their products. The rapid spread of mobile phones in Jamaica and the simplicity of the project make this a viable and realistic use of the technology to improve marketing/information asymmetries in the agricultural sector. For instance, Farmer Leslie can text in his prices for his produce - say "yam $100" or "carrot $50"- all these are placed in a database of products and their costs for that week/month. As a consumer/middleman/retailer you can find the ‘going price’ for products by simply texting in the name of the product and the price range you prefer - say "carrot minimum$?", "yam average$?" or "potato highest$?"- and you will receive a text with the associated dollar value (e.g. "the average cost for carrots this week is $50"). One could also text "who has min carrot$?" this could return a text that says "Farmer Leslie [978-5687] has the lowest priced carrots @ $10"… the possibilities are endless with SMS ID.
The possibilities are boundless primarily because of the rapid expansion of ICTs on the island. Nearly two-thirds of the population has access to mobile phones, a decade after the telecoms sector was liberalized and internet access has more than tripled over the same period. These technologies offer grand opportunities to tackle various problems, not least among them are the two challenges that I argued are Jamaica’s chief agricultural plagues. The challenges identified are praedial larceny and information asymmetries which cause poor marketing of agricultural goods. To combat the first challenge, praedial larceny, I have proposed a mobile security innovation called Electronic Laser Fence Security Alert System which works by triggering an alert via SMS text messaging or by initiating a voice call to the owner’s mobile phone whenever an intruder crosses the laser protected perimeter of his farmland. Similarly, I proposed a SMS Information Database (SMS ID) to eliminate information asymmetries which hinder the proper marketing of agricultural goods in Jamaica. With SMS ID farmers can post the cost for their products via SMS text messages or voice calls and retailers, middle-men, and consumers are able to request the lowest costs for their goods via SMS text messages or voice calls. This central database enables farmers to advertise their products and gain a better understanding of market trends and their competitors. I believe that embracing these novel means of using ICT to make agriculture more tenable and productive in Jamaica is a step towards fully embracing the potential of ICT for the improvement of the local economy.
- Brown, Ingrid. “Cattle farmers lose $60 million to praedial thieves in 2005.” January 28, 2007: Jamaica-Gleaner. July 16, 2010. <http://m.jamaicaobserver.com/news/118409_Cattle- farmers-lose--60-million-to-praedial-thieves-in-2005>
- CARICOM. “Agriculture Development Profile – Jamaica.” 2009: Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat. July 31, 2010. <http://www.caricom.org/jsp/community/donor_conference_agriculture/agri_profile_jamaica.jsp.>
- George, Claxixte. “Minister of Agriculture Outlines Four-Pronged Strategy to Combat Praedial Larceny.” December 19, 2001: Press Release. August 2, 2010. <http://www.slumaffe.org/Press_Release/Praedial_Larceny/praedial_larceny.html>
- JIS. “Tufton says Praedial Larceny Costs up to $5 Billion, yearly.” May 21, 2010: Ministry of Information, Jamaica. July 28, 2010. <http://www.jis.gov.jm/MinAgriFish/html/20100521T0900000500_24039_JIS_TU FTON_SAYS_PRAEDIAL_LARCENY_COSTS_UP_TO__5_BILLION__YEARLY_.asp.>.
- Redpath, Laura. “Anti-Praedial Larceny Initiative Launched.” May 21, 2010: Jamaica- Gleaner. August 2, 2010. <http://www.jamaicagleaner.com/gleaner/20100521/lead/lead3.html>
- Smith, Rohan. Business Conversation. March 23, 2008.
- The Gleaner. “Government to introduce new measures for praedial larceny” July 16, 2009: Jamaica-Gleaner. July 26, 2010. <http://gojamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=10650>
- Thompson, Shelly-Ann. “ATTACKING PRAEDIAL LARCENY - Security costs adding to increasing food bill.” June 4, 2008: Jamaica-Gleaner. July 26, 2010. <http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20080604/lead/lead4.html>
Author: Tyrone Christopher Hall, 2010
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