From Andalusia to Madrid, Spain Shocked at Wave of Olive Thefts

The soaring price of olives and olive oil has led to an epidemic of fruit thefts and damage to groves across Spain.

By Simon Roots
Feb. 10, 2023 14:03 UTC

From Granada to Madrid, wide­spread and well-orga­nized olive thefts are occur­ring on an unprece­dented scale across Spain as the price of olive oil con­tin­ues to break records.

An olive grower from Brea del Tajo, in the autonomous com­mu­nity of Madrid, esti­mates that he has lost 25 tons of olives to theft so far this sea­son.

These are just the tip of the ice­berg, though, because not all those affected are fil­ing com­plaints.- Fídel del Olmo, olive grower in Madrid

Meanwhile, in a sin­gle oper­a­tion in Jaén, the world’s most pro­duc­tive olive-grow­ing region by a wide mar­gin, the author­i­ties seized more than five tons from sus­pected thieves.

The impact of the crime wave has been so severe that the Spanish Association of Young Farmers and Ranchers (Asaja) has issued a state­ment con­firm­ing that it is coor­di­nat­ing with the secu­rity ser­vices and the national Directorate General of Agriculture, Livestock and Food to counter the threat.

See Also:Rising Prices Contribute to Spike in Olive Thefts in Jaén

Despite this, some asso­ci­a­tion mem­bers feel that the judi­cial sys­tem is inef­fec­tual.

We do not yet have con­crete data, but we do receive the con­cerns of farm­ers who are expe­ri­enc­ing this sit­u­a­tion, and we know that com­plaints are being filed,” said Francisco José García, pres­i­dent of Asaja Madrid. These are just the tip of the ice­berg, though, because not all those affected are fil­ing com­plaints.”

We are aware of cases in which the author­i­ties have been noti­fied, and the per­pe­tra­tors have been caught red-handed, but the olives are seized, and [then the per­pe­tra­tors] leave,” he added. Farmers feel unpro­tected.”

In addi­tion to the loss of their crops, such thefts cause grow­ers long-term losses in the form of dam­age sus­tained by the tar­geted trees.

Fídel del Olmo, an olive grower from the Madrid region, told Asaja that they go to steal, not to col­lect; they do it with­out regard, where there are more olives and where they can load quickly.”

Beyond this year… there is the future dam­age,” he added. The olive tree suf­fers a lot from the blows that they deliver to remove the fruit, they carry it out with­out regard or care, and the tree feels that dur­ing the next sea­son.”

Roca, the Countryside Theft task force of Spain’s Guardia Civil (Civil Guard, a branch of the armed forces that acts in a polic­ing capac­ity), appears to be hav­ing some suc­cess in Andalusia, the world’s largest olive-grow­ing region.

Olive fruit theft

In some cases, thieves enter a grove with­out per­mis­sion and har­vest the fruit with­out the own­er’s knowl­edge or con­sent. Olive fruit is also stolen from trucks or stor­age facil­i­ties dur­ing trans­port from the grove to the mar­ket. To pro­tect their crops, some farm­ers have started using secu­rity mea­sures such as cam­eras, alarms and guard dogs.

In Granada, agents have appre­hended 11 sus­pects since January 24 on charges includ­ing rob­bery with vio­lence.

In Jaén, mem­bers of the task force uncov­ered a sophis­ti­cated oper­a­tion dur­ing a rou­tine check specif­i­cally intended to safe­guard unhar­vested olives in the area. A request for paper­work from a group of indi­vid­u­als parked among olive groves revealed an orga­nized net­work sus­pected of mul­ti­ple thefts total­ing more than five tons of olives, fal­si­fy­ing com­mer­cial doc­u­ments and imper­son­ation.

The Guardia Civil has issued advi­sories rec­om­mend­ing that farm­ers and the pub­lic exer­cise par­tic­u­lar vig­i­lance and report any sus­pi­cious behav­ior.

They also increas­ingly focus on com­mer­cial trans­porta­tion and pur­chase points like olive mills. This increased atten­tion led to the seizure of 7.3 tons of undoc­u­mented olives at a col­lec­tion point in Miajadas, Extremadura, last month.

García also believes that buy­ers are respon­si­ble for ensur­ing the prove­nance of the olives they pur­chase.

We would like to ask olive buy­ers to take this prob­lem into con­sid­er­a­tion and try to trace the ori­gin of the fruit to pre­vent the stolen prod­uct from enter­ing the chan­nels,” he said, Likewise, we would also ask farm­ers who give per­mis­sion to third par­ties to col­lect their olives to do so in writ­ing so that this con­sent exists in some form.”

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