The plundering of maize lands in the Free State has become a massive problem for farmers in the region, leading to the loss of millions of rand. This was according to Dr Jane Buys, safety and risk analyst at Free State Agriculture (FSA).
Buys said that between 2t to 3t of maize were stolen every day in some parts of the province.
“Farmers … are not producing enough maize to meet their contractual obligations. They lose millions of rand due to theft,” she said.
In order to prevent the theft of their maize, farmers were now appointing guards to protect their produce. This added to the cost burden that they were already under.
Moreover, these guards were being attacked with pangas and shot at in carrying out their duties, Buys said.
According to the FSA VKB Safety Desk, incidents of maize theft had been reported in Allanridge, Bothaville, Bultfontein, Clocolan, Ficksburg, Heuningspruit, Hobhouse, Hoopstad, Kestell, Kroonstad, Odendaalsrus, Reitz and Wesselsbron.
While maize theft in the province was not a new phenomenon, “it was never anything like this,” said Buys.
According to her, maize theft had become an organised crime.
“Large groups of people harvest maize from the land, after which it is put in used fertiliser bags and transported with bakkies. The maize is then sold at R2 each in informal settlements.”
She emphasised that 99% of farmers were not selling maize on the informal market as their maize was delivered to silos.
Buys added that the problem could get worse if it was not addressed, and mechanisms thus needed to be put in place to prevent maize theft.
“Farmers can put a permit system in place as soon as their maize is sold by hand to people, and in this way bring it under the attention of their local South African Police Services coordinator,” she explained.
She added that the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation had been asked to pay urgent attention to maize theft, while the National Prosecuting Authority had been asked to look into the successful prosecution of suspected maize thieves.