In Jamaica, praedial larceny — the theft of agricultural produce and livestock — robs
the agriculture industry of more than US $5 million each year. It destroys
livelihoods, creates mistrust in communities, and disincentivizes investment in a
sector that employs almost 20% of the Jamaican population. Despite government efforts to curb the plague though various programs, praedial larceny remains
one of the largest inhibitors to the development of the island’s agriculture industry.
Combatting this issue requires the cooperation of multiple public sector organizations; such as, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Rural Agriculture Development Authority (RADA), the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), and the police force. The involvement of private sector entities is also necessary, given that farmers, markets, retailers, and vendors all interface to the problem. The dynamics of the problem also vary within different contexts; for example, across rural and urban settings, and across varying definitions of “acceptable theft,” and “reasonable consequence.” Legally speaking this type of theft is limited to crops, however the most common understanding of praedial larceny also includes farm animals.
Over the last 7 months a team comprised of, Code for the Caribbean Fellows — Rory Walker (pictured, far right), Staysean Daley (pictured, center) and Varun Baker (not pictured) — RADA, the JAS, and members of the police force have worked to address this issue. The team was also supported by local and international organizations, including the SlashRoots Foundation, the Mona School of Business & Management, and the International Development Research Centre of Canada. Together, they piloted different approaches to understanding and countering the dynamics of praedial larceny.
The Fellows started this process by immersing themselves in affected communities, talking with individuals that interfaced with praedial larceny, and shadowing farmers, extension officers, and police to understand their experiences. This gave the team and the partners a much deeper understanding of the problem ecosystem, as well as the social, institutional, and political dynamics that existed. As a result, the team decided to focus their efforts on two major projects:
Harvest API is an open data platform for sharing agriculture data. It includes information on registered farmers, farms, agriculture production, and price information for the entire island. The team built HarvestAPI to remove the friction that prevented various stakeholders from gaining access to information they needed to make informed decisions. It also aligned with RADA’s goals of encouraging innovation in the agriculture sector, and launched with two platform partners that are incorporating data from Harvest into their startup’s products, AgroCentral and CleverGrocer. With the launch of Harvest, RADA becomes the first government agency to release agriculture open data in the Caribbean!
The Fellows also produced an app called Clip, which uses data from HarvestAPI. Clip is an SMS agriculture information service that aims to provide on-demand access to agriculture data, using technologies people already have, SMS and mobile phones. After learning about the success police officers in the parish of St. Thomas, a parish with previously high rates of praedial larceny incidents, team decided to build Clip. They set up strategic checkpoints to monitor agriculture transport in and out of the parish. However, one of the main challenges the police experienced was getting consistent access to people in the office who could provide the data they needed to make judgment calls in the field. Clip was created to remove that bottleneck and support a process that already seemed to be working.
The Code for the Caribbean Pilot Results Launch brought together stakeholders from across Jamaica’s agriculture and technologies sectors, including RADA’s Executive Director Lenworth Fulton, and the Junior Minister of Technology, Hon Julian Robinson. It was another opportunity for RADA, the MoA, technologists, law enforcement, and members of farming communities to come together to talk about ways to address praedial larceny. The event spotlighted the work of the Fellowship team, allowing them to present their user research and unveil Clip and HarvestAPI to the public for the first time.
Praedial larceny remains an endemic problem in Jamaica and one of the greatest threats to the sustainability of the agriculture industry. However, with RADA’s leadership and help from partners like the JAS and police force, we have contributed to removing some of the sector’s silos and opened up the conversation from more people to participate. Through the Code for the Caribbean Fellowship, we have started a process that we hope will bring about real change in how we approach problems in Jamaica, and the broader Caribbean.
For more information about Code for the Caribbean please visit our website.
Matthew McNaughton is the Executive Director of the SlashRoots Foundation, a civic tech non-profit that leverages technology to create solutions to social problems endemic to the Caribbean region. His work focuses on the role of data and information in improving service delivery.