Fresh Produce Theft: Farmers Lose Billions Every Year
Farmer's Weekly|January 31, 2020
The theft of agricultural produce costs South African farmers billions of rand a year, not only through the loss of produce, but in additional expenses, such as fencing, to improve security. Annelie Coleman spoke to industry leaders Dr Jane Buys, Derek Donkin and Tommie Esterhuyse, as well as a Limpopo-based citrus producer who preferred to remain anonymous.
Annelie Coleman

What is the true scope of theft in the sector?

Tommie Esterhuyse, chairperson of Agri SA’s Centre of Excellence: Rural Safety (TE): It’s impossible to fully determine the extent of theft on farms. A 2018 Agri SA survey showed that seven out of 10 participants had at some stage suffered losses due to the theft of infrastructure. [These crimes] cost the primary production sector R5,7 billion in 2018.

The scope of theft of agricultural products such as maize, fruit and livestock is exceedingly difficult to quantify, but the fact is that such crimes have a profound impact on farmers’ sustainability and profitability. In addition, they are forced to spend vast sums on security measures such as electric fencing, something they can hardly afford.

Farmer X, a citrus producer from Limpopo, who wanted to remain anonymous to ensure the safety of his farm and family (FX): It’s difficult to quantify the true extent of these crimes. We’ve found that theft escalates early or late in the season. Even if only 1% of an orange yield of 65t/ha to 80t/ha is stolen, it still has an enormously negative effect on business. The erection of fences adds markedly to farmers’ overheads.

What is the effect of increasing joblessness on the theft of agricultural products? Is it fair to say that poverty drives these crimes?

TE: Joblessness and the ailing economy have a tremendous impact on crime and criminality in the agriculture sector. Individuals suffering from abject poverty could be forced to commit crime. However, we also increasingly find cases of well-organised, profit-driven organised crime groupings operating. Agricultural and rural crime obviously have an impact on food security. If allowed to continue unabated, crime could force farmers off their land. That’s why we petition the police to do everything in their power to combat it; it’s in the national interest.

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