Adapting technology to tackle stock theft and other farm crimes
Farmer's Weekly|February 19, 2021
Property theft on South Africa's farms ranges from the petty and opportunistic all the way to well-planned, syndicate-led invasions, and profoundly affects incomes, production and the well-being of rural communities. but farmers and security experts are not taking this scourge lying down. Lloyd Phillips reports on how remote digital technology is being adapted to create practical, and highly effective, solutions.
Lloyd Phillips

FAST FACTS

Over a period of just two years, KwaZulu-Natal beef cattle farmer Andrew Fyvie lost animals worth around R1,5 million to stock thieves.

With advice from farmers, technology company IoT Global has adapted track and tracing hardware, software and wireless communications to protect cattle and other farm assets.

It is hoped that the Rugged Cow Tracker system will become a widely used deterrent to would-be thieves.

During the course of 2019 and 2020, KwaZulu-Natal stud and commercial Santa Gertrudis beef cattle farmer Andrew Fyvie suffered the theft of animals worth a total of R1,5 million. He also lost hundreds of thousands of rands by having to hire a helicopter at various times to try to track these stolen cattle, as well as through the loss of potential income that the animals would have generated through breeding.

According to Willie Clack, chairperson of the National Stock Theft Prevention Forum, Fyvie and other livestock owners across South Africa lost animals valued at around R1,3 billion to thieves in 2019.

This was despite many owners being part of local stock theft prevention forums and implementing anti-stock-theft measures, such as hiring additional farm security, electrifying fences, and even replacing conventional barbed wire with thick steel cables.

At his wit’s end, Fyvie did not know what else to do. Then, by chance, he met Brett Lee, co-founder and co-owner of IoT Global, a company based in KwaZulu-Natal that specialises in the wireless monitoring of assets. The encounter sparked a flicker of hope for a solution to his devastating stock theft problem.

Lee says that until 2018, IoT Global had not been involved in agriculture.

“We were supplying digital tracking and communications devices and technology to mostly urban clients. But after hearing that Andrew wanted technology to track and trace his cattle in real time on and off his farm, I took on the challenge of adapting our technology for him.”

He adds that while IoT Global had used wireless devices to monitor temperature, water levels and power consumption, and keep track of assets such as television sets, solar panels, trailers, paintings and firearms, they realised that these devices would have to be particularly hard-wearing to monitor cattle in rough outdoor conditions.

TOUGHENING UP

“Cattle often bump against each other or against trees and fences, and are commonly outdoors in rainy, muddy conditions. So we worked on ‘ruggedising’ our existing asset-tracking devices so they could be fitted to the animals.

“The hardware and electronics of the devices also had to be able to tolerate temperature extremes, communicate with wireless networks, and have sufficiently good battery life,” explains Lee.

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