Theft ravages fruit and vegetable farms in Western Cape

Business Day
Bekezela Phakathi, 13 September 2016

SOME farmers in the Western Cape have stopped planting oranges because of spiking crime levels in the region.
In Wellington, farmers had done away with citrus orchards because produce theft made it impossible to continue farming sustainably, said Agri Western Cape CEO Carl Opperman.
In Philippi on the Cape Flats — an area that plays an important role in food security for the province with three annual vegetable crops — producers are making provision that at least 10% of their crop will be stolen, mostly in broad daylight.
Opperman said the police in the province had referred in the past to fruit and vegetable theft in Western Cape as “petty crimes”.
“This is an indication of the total ignorance with regard to food security, affordable food and the ripple effects of crime on the economy,” said Opperman.
“The cost of the damage caused to orchards, vineyards and farmland by criminals also needs to be taken into account. So do the millions of rand in damage when pumps, fences, pivot wheels, cables, pipes and other infrastructure are stolen or when produce suffers damage when irrigation cycles are interrupted during critical production periods because of crime. Violent crimes on farms and in rural areas are also on the rise, which is extremely worrying.”
Many farmers could not afford 24-hour private security and, despite repeated calls in the media, criminals were still being supported by motorists who bought stolen produce on the streets. The stolen produce was also sold in informal settlements, he added.
Opperman said crime statistics showed that the agricultural sector in the Western Cape was seriously affected. “This is evident from, among others, livestock theft that increased 3.6% in the Western Cape, while declining 1% nationally. Should official statistics be available for fruit theft, vegetable theft and theft of agricultural infrastructure, it would also have shown a definite increase, according to Agri Western Cape’s data,” he said.
Agri Western Cape is in the process of presenting to stakeholders its plan to tackle crime. The plan was compiled by the organisation’s policy committee for rural safety, which expects to present it to the Western Cape legislature in the coming weeks.
The committee is in contact with farm guards, the police, affiliates and other stakeholders, and conducts regular crime surveys among affiliates to communicate crime trends and figures to producers and role players. Based on its own data, Agri Western Cape compiled a strategic solution on the premise that social welfare conditions needed to be attended to.
Opperman said social decay led to an environment in which there was no respect for the law. “It is necessary to balance the scales with crime-prevention on the one hand, and the country’s social welfare problems on the other,” the Agri Western Cape CEO said.