|Thieves of avocado and macadamia nuts are pilfering the crops by night in South Africa. / Photo by dmitriylo via Shutterstock|
Some of the hottest items on the black market nowadays are foods, such as fruits and nuts. Thieves of avocado and macadamia nuts are pilfering the crops by night in South Africa and this has led to a boom in the black market for the premium crops.
Avocado and macadamia thefts in SA
In the past five years alone, avocado and macadamia thefts have increased in the country. Farming associations say that it has increasingly become an organized crime as the stolen produce are infiltrating the legitimate market. The worldwide demand for avocado has caused the price to skyrocket, contributing to the rising number of avocado thefts. In February, avocado prices in South Africa reached R25 per fruit as pre-season demand surpassed the supply. Both February and March are a vulnerable period for macadamia nuts and avocado theft in the country too. The number of macadamia nut thefts rose during harvesting season in March while avocado thefts rose months before the harvesting season. Prices are high because of the fruits’ pre-season scarcity, according to South African daily IOL.
Bram Snijder from the South Africa Avocado Growers Association shares how smallholder and large-scale growers and farmers shoulder the burden of security operations to deter thieves. Some properties and orchards are fenced and guarded day and night during the harvest season. Snijder went on to say that they spend a lot of money on security just to make sure that the fruits don’t get stolen. Today, their country is the largest producer of avocados in the region and a key player in the global production of avocados.
Thefts may be by single opportunists, carrying out small-scale or large-scale raids. They establish links to buyers who are willing to take the stolen fruit. Organized syndicates are reportedly traveling across avocado-growing regions in the country and strategically hitting farms in one area simultaneously to divide the security operations. Large-scale thefts usually move as much as 20 to 30 tons of avocados in one night and then it will be distributed to different channels in the region. Farmers joke about night-time raids, saying that the night shift work allowed thieves to pick faster than their day shift.
|Thefts may be by single opportunists, carrying out small-scale or large-scale raids. / Photo by KSCHiLI via Shutterstock|
The majority of the stolen fruits will find its way in the market outside the authority of the market inspectors. A 2018 survey found that about 83% of avocado growers in South Africa reported avocado theft as a problem in their farms. A part of the stolen avocados also infiltrates the municipal fruit market. Avocado thefts have also been a problem in Mexico, California, Spain, and New Zealand. Snijder believes that illegal traders in South Africa have now become “wary” because there have been more inspections in many areas.
SouthAfrica.co.za, a platform that showcases the nation’s collective heritage, shares that the avocado export of SA for the 2019 season (March to October) amounted to 14.5 million of 4 kg. cartons or equivalent to 58,000 tons. Approximately 76% of avocados in the world are produced in the Americas, 11% in Africa, 9% in Asia, and 2% in the South Pacific and Europe.
The world’s biggest producer of avocados is Mexico. If it is based on the global avocado production by country in 2018, Mexico produced some 2.2 million tonnes of avocados. The second top producer of avocados worldwide is the Dominican Republic (644.31 in 1,000 tons), Peru (504.52), Indonesia (410.09), Columbia (326.67), Brazil (235.79), Kenya (233.93), United States (168.53), Venezuela (139.69), and Israel (131.72). South Africa is at around the 12th spot. This data was published by database company Statista.
About 45 to 50% of avocados grown in South Africa are exported and 10 to 15% is processed into pulp and oil. The rest are sold locally. The top importing countries of SA avocados are in Europe, including France, the Netherlands, Spain, the Baltic states, and the UK. A small portion is exported to Hong Kong, the Middle East, and Africa.
Macadamia theft costs industry millions
The profitability of macadamias has also resulted in an increasing number of macadamia theft incidents. The industry has suffered losses of more than R160 million. Macadamias South Africa’s CEO Lizel Pretorius said syndicates appear to be working together and the crime begins at the farm gate. Then, it creates a ripple effect in the value chain.
Nevertheless, the macadamia industry is growing rapidly in SA. Here are its export destinations in 2017: Asia (56.1%), Africa (0.1%), Europe (16.9%), North America (24.5%), South America (0.1%), Middle East (1.2%), and Australasia (1.1%), according to Macadamias South Africa NPC.
Macadamias nuts are considered as the world’s most expensive nuts, reaching as much as $25 per pound. The high price comes with the slow harvesting process, production, and pricey import. The macadamia nuts are also only harvested five to six times a year. Unlike avocados in South Africa, stolen macadamias are transported to other countries, such as in Zimbabwe. Theft of such type of nut is also prevalent in neighboring nations, like Mozambique and Malawi. The 18-month shelf life of nuts has also given thieves the advantage of they being able to stockpile the goods longer compared to avocados that can quickly deteriorate the moment picked. South Africa is the third-largest macadamia nut producer in the world after Australia and Hawaii.
As stolen nuts enter the normal market illegally, there is also a health risk to people as they are not processed based on the industry hygiene standards in the country. In some cases, drivers delivering the stolen goods are not even aware that they are participating in a crime as some wrongdoers are setting up fictitious companies, change paperwork, and divert their shipments.
The farming sector of South Africa may not be surprised that the black markets for avocados and macadamia nuts are booming since the two are considered as premium crops. However, food theft is creating economic damage to the country. Aside from investing in lighting in the farm, screening employees, marking the property, and making neighborhood watch, certification of the produce and the traceability systems have to be strict to have visibility into the complexity of the supply chain and track down fraudulent activities.