E Cape lemon orchards picked bare by shadowy crime ring
One farmer in the Addo region lost six tons of fruit in a single afternoon, and losses now run into the millions
Farmers in the Addo region of the Eastern Cape are losing millions of rands annually to a brazen syndicate that plunders their citrus orchards.
The syndicate uses 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 picking them up again.
Syndicate members have destroyed irrigation infrastructure, stripping the irrigation hoses and using them to bind the bags containing their ill-gotten gains.
The Sundays River Valley is SA’s biggest lemon growing region, with 8.65 million cartons of lemons produced last year.
While the theft has occurred for “six or seven” years already, according to farmers, the syndicate has ramped up its operations. This prompted a meeting between DA MPL Bobby Stevenson and local farmers last Thursday. At the meeting it came to light that one farmer lost six tons of lemons valued at more than R66,000 in a single afternoon last year.
The farmers claim the syndicate gets invoices for buying waste fruit, and uses these invoices over and over again to disguise its looting when inspected.
Keith Finnemore, of Rosedale Organic Farm Bed & Breakfast, said farmers were targeted on average about once a month.
“It is one main syndicate. There’s the main guy with a few guys around him. They then employ foreign nationals and unemployed local labourers, who go in groups to the farms where they steal fruit in 50kg bags,” he said.
“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. He said at the end of 2016 he 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. Those closest to the road are being targeted the most. There’s no law and order,” he said.
According to Stevenson, the farmers are frustrated with the ability of the local Addo police to deal with the matter and have requested that SAPS establish a special task team to investigate and arrest the syndicate members.
“I will be submitting questions for oral reply in the house, to ascertain what action SAPS will be taking to deal with this scourge and will also be speaking to senior police officials,” Stevenson said in a statement.