Total losses estimated over 12 million euros

South African macadamia industry satisfied with stiff sentence for theft

The first significant sentence for macadamia theft has been handed down with the prosecution of four farm workers in the Louis Trichardt District Court last week. They were sentenced to 9 months’ imprisonment or R5,000 (302.4 euros), roughly a month’s income. 

In April this year, the four men between 33 and 43 years of age, amongst whom two brothers who had grown up on the farm, filled up a bakkie (small pick-up truck) with macadamia nuts on the farm of Fritz Ahrens, between Louis Trichardt and Levubu. They chose lunchtime to steal the transformer’s keys, in order to cut power to the security cameras. To divert the farm manager’s attention, they had punctured a tractor’s tyre, but he chanced upon them as they were speeding out of the farm gate, macadamia nuts flying.

Fritz Ahrens is quite convinced that these macadamia thieves were part of a larger network and the South African Macadamia Growers’ Association (SAMAC) agrees. Barry Christie, operations manager for macadamias at Subtrop, has compiled a report on the phenomenon of macadamia theft. “There is evidence of syndicates suspected to be involved with the purchasing, processing and redistribution of stolen macadamias pushing prices down on the international market because stolen macadamias are purchased at a quarter to a third of the normal price.”

Not only have stolen South African macadamias illegally made it onto the international market, jeopardising food health specifications, storage quality and therefore the local industry’s reputation, but there is also strong suspicion that some major retailers in South Africa stock their shelves with black-market macadamias: at these stores macadamia prices are markedly lower than those sold via the official channels.

SAMAC claims that macadamia theft has been on the increase over the past four or five years, with a concomitant annual loss of between 1,000 and 4,000 tonnes.

“A private investigator who did excellent work in the Levubu region gave a conservative estimation that at least 1,000 tons of macadamias are stolen from the Levubu region alone. According to the investigation, many of these nuts are exported to Zimbabwe, but some are transported to Mpumalanga Province where syndicates buy the nuts,” SAMAC’s report continues.

Its investigations have revealed that theft occurs all the way along the value chain, from farm workers to independent harvest contractors to theft at processing facilities or by hawkers. Alarmingly, there is an increase in armed robberies on macadamia farms.

Economic damage to macadamia industry
SAMAC puts the damage to the industry at “a conservative figure of 2,120 tons of macadamias estimated to be stolen annually to the value of R146,3 million [8.85 million euro].” This figure accounts for direct losses; when indirect losses are factored in, SAMAC reckons that the damage comes to more than R200 million (more than 12 million euros).

The state prosecutor, Advocate Bethuel Makhado, seems to have decided to make an example of these men, only the latest in a series of macadamia theft cases in the Levubu area. “If this court does not give out stiffer sentences, we will not be rid of this cancer […]. Day in and day out this court deals with the theft of avocados and macadamias,” he is reported as saying by Zoutnet, a local community news agency. 

The value of black-market macadamias outshines even that of rhino horn, according to some in the industry.

Barry Christie
South African Macadamia Growers’ Association
Tel: +27 13 753 2077

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