Thefts happen regularly in Andalusian avocado farms, mostly due to the high prices that this fruit reaches in the markets. Avocado producers in the Axarquía, in Malaga, have been denouncing this for years. The area's climatic conditions are almost perfect for the production of avocados; consequently, the crop has flourished and given rise to a business handling around 45,000 tons per year and generating about 120 million Euro in turnover. Malaga is the main European producer of this fruit, with more than 6,500 hectares devoted to the crop. Its main competitor is the nearby Costa Tropical de Granada, with another 4,000 hectares.
“I was very skeptical, until it happened to me,” says Juan Antonio Reyes, head of Reyes Gutiérrez, one of the largest companies in Vélez-Málaga, which has 60 hectares of avocados, but also markets the fruit of half a thousand small producers. "The vast majority have been robbed," says the entrepreneur. He has suffered this five times this year, with several thousands of kilos stolen.
In order to tackle the fruit's theft, the security measures have been strengthened. In addition to traditional surveillance, there is also an infrared and a video surveillance system. Furthermore, he has asked for the budget for a fleet of drones able to cover a greater area and automatically notify police officers.
Small growers, however, do not have as many resources to invest in security, and at dusk, when they finish their workday, their trees are easy prey for thieves. The average farm size is one to three hectares, and they are reached by going through a maze of roads that are very difficult to monitor in their entirety. The mayor of the town of Torrox, Óscar Medina, has opted for the installation of cameras at the main access points to the farms. Another popular option is to harvest the fruit before it has finished ripening.
“The problem is very serious,” says Miguel Gutiérrez, secretary of the Spanish Association of Tropical Fruit Producers, based in Vélez-Málaga. To alleviate it, the Government created a new Guardia Civil Roca group in summer 2018, formed by agents specialized in these crimes, and deployed them to the Axarquía. They carry out almost constant surveillance.
One of this group's successes was the dismantling of an organization of nine people devoted to the theft of tropical fruits in the area, which had stolen fruits worth more than 170,000 Euro.