Avocado farmers in South Africa are combating thieves who have found that money grows on trees.
The Wall Street Journal interviewed avocado farmer Mark Alcock who has a 170-acre farm in South Africa, the world's sixth-largest avocado exporter. He said his farm has a motion-activated infrared camera system operated by an ex-military soldier and protects the property from criminals.
Alcock is not alone. As prices increase due to cyclical factors, other farms have installed security systems to monitor their crops.
"As the value of the product rises, the accessibility of it rises because more orchards are being planted," said Howard Blight, who farms avocados on a 350-acre farm. He said his farm is guarded by an electric fence and guards.
"It seems a bit drastic," Blight said. "But avocados are the green gold."
Avocado theft used to be minimal but is now rampant because criminal gangs are getting involved and raiding farms, then pushing the fruit into legitimate markets, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, an NGO.
The latest raids have disrupted the supply and the price of avocados across South Africa. Much of the fruit is destined for Europe, where wholesalers pay up to $2 per pound.
Perhaps the reason why criminal gangs are stealing avocado is that the financial legacy of the virus pandemic has doomed the country and will likely result in longer-term structural effects. This includes high levels of debt and soaring wealth inequality, pushing those who are jobless into criminal gangs.
Francisco Díaz, co-owner of Oh My Avo, Cape Town's first avocado bar, said the crime wave is producing headaches for his business.
"This year it was a little bit crazy. Plenty of people are stealing them, so there was a big shortage," Díaz said.
Craig Coppen, co-director of Canine Security, provides security services to more than 30 commercial growers across the country, monitoring 3,700 acres.
On the other side of the world, drug cartels in Mexico have diversified from pumping cocaine and fentanyl into the US to more legitimate operations, including developing avocado farms or seizing them from local farmers. This lucrative business is feeding the West's craze for avocado toast, popularized by millennials.