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Fresh avocados at the Afrupro packaging warehouse in Tzaneen, South Africa. GUILLEM SARTORIO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Thieves Find Money That Grows on Trees: ‘Avocados Are the Green Gold’
Global demand has spurred brazen nighttime heists and defensive measures from barbed-wire fences to infrared cameras to security teams and tracking dogs
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June 17, 2021 12:11 pm ET
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TZANEEN, South Africa—Avocado farmer Mark Alcock has motion-activated infrared cameras dotting 170 acres of groves that send intruder alerts to his phone. The beeps typically wake him at least once an hour, every night.
It’s usually bush pigs, porcupines or baboons. “But there’s always that chance it’ll be someone coming to steal,” he said. “It’s just getting out of hand.” The cameras are part of an elaborate antitheft system that includes a rapid-response team run by an ex-military man and expert in tracker dogs.
South Africa is the world’s sixth-largest avocado exporter, and farmers like Mr. Alcock are entangled in a cat-and-mouse game with fruit thieves who abscond with thousands of pounds at a time. Many avocado growers have resorted to security measures borrowed from gold mines and other big-money targets.
“As the value of the product rises, the accessibility of it rises because there’s more orchards being planted,” said Howard Blight, who grows avocados, macadamia nuts and dragon fruit on his nearly 350-acre farm. The property is guarded by an electric fence standing more than 7-feet high and topped with barbed wire. Guards patrol the farm 24/7.
“It seems a bit drastic,” Mr. Blight said. “But avocados are the green gold.”
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