Olive thefts in the Jaén, the largest olive oil-producing region on Earth, increased by 40 percent during the 2021/22 crop year compared to the previous harvest.
During the currency crop year, 203,961 kilograms of olives were stolen, compared with the 121,137 kilograms stolen in the same period last year.
The price of olive oil this season has far exceeded €3.50 per kilogram, which is why olives have become a highly coveted product for thieves.
Speaking about the crime, Catalina Madueño, the sub-delegate of the government of Spain in Jaén, said the increase in the theft was linked to better prices for olive oil experienced in recent months.
According to Madueño, 47,000 kilograms representing 23 percent of the 203,961 kilograms, were recovered by the anti-theft unit of the Civil Guard, one of Spain’s two federal police forces.
Madueño said that two organized gangs had been dismantled, which led to the recovery of some of the stolen olives.
“The price of olive oil this season has far exceeded €3.50 per kilogram, which is why olives have become a highly coveted product for thieves,” she said, adding that there has been an increase in organized gang robberies in the countryside this year.
“This year, with oil prices well above those in previous years, this product has once again become highly coveted,” Madueño said. “When olive oil prices are high, it has a ‘call effect’ on specialized criminals.”
In November, the Civil Guard deployed 1,050 extra police to patrol the countryside and deter criminals, with agents remaining in the fields and mills until the end of March.
Olive theft is a common problem in Spain during the harvest season. However, the number of thefts spikes when olive prices go up.
During the 2015/16 crop year, incidences of theft in Jaén increased to 275, with 560 tons stolen when the price hit €3.10.
According to Francisco José Lozano, the head of the Civil Guard in Jaén, this kind of theft happens because there is a ready market for the stolen produce. He added that investigations show oil mills that buy the stolen olives are not in Jaén.
Criminal gangs steal olives at different stages during the harvest period. However, most of these incidences happen immediately after the fruits are picked but before they are transported to oil mills.
During the 2021/22 crop year, 37 percent of olives were stolen when the fruits were already stored in bags or trailers awaiting delivery to the mills.
Lozano said that the main destination of stolen olive is the province of Granada. Here, the criminal organizations attempt to pass the olives off as locally grown.
However, he added there is always a discrepancy between the number of olives received and their possible origin, which make it easy to detect the theft.