Thieves plundering orchards

Addo farmers suffer millions in losses annually as syndicate steals citrus fruit in organised raids

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The syndicate is making use of foreign nationals and unemployed local labourers, who target farms in groups of two to 10 people.
A large truck drops off teams, who collect the fruit in 50kg bags before they are picked up again.
Syndicate members have destroyed irrigation infrastructure, using the hoses to bind the bags containing their gains.
While the theft has occurred for six or seven years, the farmers say, the syndicate is ramping up its operations.
This prompted a meeting between DA MPL Bobby Stevenson and Addo citrus farmers on Thursday last week.
The Sundays River Valley is SA’s biggest lemon-growing region, with 8.65-million cartons of lemons produced in 2018.
At the meeting, it came to light that one farmer had lost six tons of lemons, worth more R66,000, in a single afternoon in 2018.
The farmers claim the syndicate gets invoices for buying waste fruit, and uses them over and over to disguise the looting when inspected.
Keith Finnemore, of Rosedale Organic Farm Bed & Breakfast, said farmers were being targeted on average about once a month.
“It is one main syndicate. There’s the main guy with a few guys around him,” he said.
“They then employ foreign nationals and unemployed local labourers, who go in groups to the farms where they steal fruit in 50kg bags.
“They’re stealing mostly lemons and oranges. They can come at any time.
“They cut the fences, steal the fruit and then are picked up by one of the drivers.”
Johnny Ferreira, whose farm lies between Addo and Kirkwood, said farmers in the area were being hit hard.
However, at the end of 2016, he had closed the main thoroughfare through his farm, and was no longer being targeted by the syndicate as access was now more difficult.
“These guys are after lemons,” he said.
“Those closest to the road are being targeted the most. There is no law and order.”
Stevenson said the farmers were frustrated with the inability of the Addo police to deal with the matter and had requested that the police establish a special task team to investigate and arrest syndicate members.
“I will be submitting questions for oral reply in the house, to ascertain what action the police will be taking to deal with this scourge, and will also be speaking to senior police officials,” he said.
Police spokesperson Captain Gerda Swart said one case was filed in January.
Swart said Uitenhage cluster commander Brigadier Ronald Koll was in the process of scheduling a meeting with the farmers to discuss strategies to curb citrus theft...

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