The high crime levels, especially farm attacks, which leave the farming community vulnerable, have further escalated over the past weeks after relaxation of the lockdown measures.
“This has once again sent shock waves through the farming community. Criminality affects not only the farmer but also farmworkers and the rural community, which can only be regarded as an economic and emotional attack on agriculture,” said Tommie Esterhuyse, chair of Agri SA’s Centre of Excellence for Rural Safety.
He said farmers are suffering tremendous losses because of an increase in product and livestock theft, illegal slaughter of livestock and plundering of farms. Esterhuyse added that this trend could escalate during the next few months. According to him the release of prisoners, unemployment and accompanying poverty may contribute to this escalation in crime.
The total loss suffered because of agricultural related crime is approximately R7,72 billion, of which stock theft losses, according to the National Stock Theft Forum, amount to approximately R1,4 billion per year.
Stock theft, as a crime, is the biggest financial risk faced by agriculture. Illegal slaughtering on farms now also occurs in regions such as in Limpopo, where it had traditionally been extremely rare. The drastic increase in illegal hunting with dogs, especially by organised groups, poses a threat to wildlife, as well as livestock and game farmers, which in turn represents another risk for agriculture.
However, much success has been achieved recently in arresting various groups involved in stock theft. A large group hunting illegally with dogs has also been arrested in the Eastern Cape, thanks to successful collaboration between farmers and the police.
Combatting crime imposes a further responsibility on primary agriculture whose main function is food production. The impact of criminality poses a risk to rural stability in rural areas and the country, as well as a threat to food security.
The farming community according to Agri SA spends approximately R1,9 billion annually to safeguard themselves and their production against crime. To this end, the Agri Securitas Trust Fund recently approved 15 rural safety projects in five provinces to the value of approximately R1.9 million.
These projects benefit more than 990 farmers and 7 000 farmworkers. This mainly entails the installation of camera- and radio systems, which require costly technology that farmers find difficult to finance. Such technological resources, as well as the information obtained in the process, also contribute to the successes of the police which led to arrests.
In a further effort to improve rural safety, Agri SA has joined forces with Fidelity ADT, which is able to provide a variety of security products and services to the farming community. These products and services have already been used successfully in some areas.
Agri SA has in the meantime asked the police for an urgent meeting to discuss the implementation of the reservist system, the National Rural Safety Strategy and the magnitude of illegal hunting with dogs.
Esterhuyse called on the farming community to remain alert and to become actively involved in their local organised-agriculture and security structures.