Avocados: Armed thieves target ‘green gold’

In South Africa, criminals often steal household items like flat-screen TVs, laptops and phones. Now syndicates are taking thievery to a new level. They’re targeting avocado orchards, and they’re prepared to shoot anyone that comes in their way

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For many years now, some have argued that South Africa’s high crime rate is the cause of housebreaking, robbery and theft.

However, now it seems that criminals no longer only have their eye on valuable household items, but also avocados.

The “green gold”, as it is known, is no longer only targeted by petty offenders who sell avocados on street corners, but also a prized possession for syndicates who sell it on global markets, reports Fruitnet.

Apparently these syndicates, run by skilled criminals, have realised that they can make quite a bit of money out of avocados.

Typically, says the report, syndicates supply the smaller traders who, in turn, either sell it along roads or supply others who may even pack fruit and supply wholesale markets.

The prices of avocados has long been a hot topic of discussion in Mzansi. Yesterday, when Food For Mzansi did a quick price-check between three leading retailers, an avo cost about R21 each, on average.

Ok, let’s play a little guessing game. If you had to choose between Checkers, Pick n Pay and Woolworths, where do you expect to pay the most for a four-pack of ripe and ready avocados? Photo: Food For Mzansi
Ok, let’s play a little guessing game. If you had to choose between Checkers, Pick n Pay and Woolworths, where do you expect to pay the most for a four-pack of ripe and ready avocados? Photo: Food For Mzansi
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A four-pack of ripe and ready avocados under the Pick n Pay brand cost R87,99 (or R21,99 each).  

Checkers listed their four-pack ripe and ready’s for R76,99 (or R19,25 each), while the same product at Woolworths cost R89,99 (or R22,50 each).

(Editor’s note: that’s no surprise, though. It is no secret that avos at Woolies went to private school. By the way, avocado season typically runs from mid to late February to October. To keep up with demand for the remaining three months, South Africa has to import avos from other countries, like Spain.)

"Vogue" magazine says more than three million new Instagram photos of avo on toast are uploaded every day. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
“Vogue” magazine says more than three million new Instagram photos of avo on toast are uploaded every day. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Anyway, back to the avocado syndicates…

According to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, organised-crime groups are muscling in on a share of the profits of southern Africa’s lucrative avocado and macadamia nut markets.

Bram Snijder, technical manager for avocado producers Lombard Spies Group, says theft was so bad they had to employ guards for their orchards.

“Thieves can clear a hectare in an hour,” says Snijder.

“Up to ten people will attack a farm a night, with 100 people attacking farms in an area all at once. If nothing is done soon, some farmers will have to shut shop.”

ALSO READ: Create a garden that keeps on giving

Simon Tattersall is the managing director of leading avocado producer Afrupro. Photo: Supplied
Simon Tattersall is the managing director of Afrupro. Photo: Supplied

Afrupro MD Simon Tattersall describe it as “a full-on war.

“Every night and day farms are raided. These guys shoot to kill.”

While the “green gold” syndicates might surprise South Africans, Mexican growers are literally battling drug cartels who target farms in Michoacán state. This is known as the global heartland of avocado production.

According to USA Today, small-scale avocado growers armed with AR-15 rifles have to take turns to protect the go-to ingredient for guacamole dips. 

Avocados = currency

The newspaper spoke to Pedro de la Guante who says his small avocado orchard earns him far more than he would get from any other legal (or illegal!) crop. “If it wasn’t for avocados, I would have to leave to find work, maybe go to the United States or somewhere else.”

Yes, you are really looking at an actual picture of an armed guard protecting Mexican farmworkers from drug gangs who seek control of the country’s avocado industry. Photo: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times
Yes, you are really looking at an actual picture of an armed guard protecting Mexican farmworkers from drug gangs who seek control of the country’s avocado industry. Photo: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times

Last year, the World Economic Forum estimated that the avocado boom means that annually about 4,9 billion kilogram are consumed worldwide.

Furthermore, avocado production carries enormous environmental costs that most of us aren’t aware of.

The world is going avocado crazy, and clearly even South Africans are prepared to kill for it.

Singer-songwriter Miley Cyrus loves avocados so much that she actually got one permanently inked on her arm. Photo: Instagram
Singer-songwriter Miley Cyrus loves avocados so much that she got one permanently inked on her arm. Photo: Instagram

Radio New Zealand describes avocados as “an underworld currency”.

And according to Vogue magazine, more than three million new Instagram photos of avocado on toast are uploaded every day.

Heck, Miley Cyrus even has an avocado on the back of her upper arm.

So, you really thought you were the world’s biggest avocado lover? Think about all of that when you’re having your next avo on toast.

RECIPE: Avocado-dripping sweet potato rosti and tomato bean stack

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