On the lookout for thieves, officers from the ROCA unit. / e. cabezas

Roca, the Guardia Civil's eyes and ears to prevent fruit and vegetable thefts

Specialist police units have been set up in Antequera, Coín and Vélez-Malaga to tackle an ever-increasing problem for farmers

Eugenio Cabezas
EUGENIO CABEZAS

It’s impossible to put a wall around the whole of the countryside, but in a province with so much farming and agriculture, especially in the Antequera, Guadalhorce and Axarquía areas, thefts are, unfortunately, common. Nevertheless, it has been harder for thieves to get away with it since 2013, when the Guardia Civil set up its special Roca unit.

“People who were growing mangos and avocados were particularly concerned about the thefts because they were losing so much money,” Jorge, the head of the team based in the Axarquía, told SUR. He also said that, as well as keeping an eye on the farms, the unit takes action against anyone who receives the stolen products because that is also an offence.

“The main problem is with plantations that aren’t fenced because they are most attractive to thieves,” he said. Sometimes the situation is difficult to prove because the thieves store the stolen products on land which belongs to other farmers.

Two years ago, the Junta de Andalucía introduced a new rule whereby anyone transporting fruit and vegetables has to carry a special document to show what they are carrying and where they are going. In general this has helped to deter the thieves, although some farmers don’t bother to fill in the forms.

A slowdown in the pandemic

The problem of fruit and vegetable thefts was alleviated by the lockdown and mobility restrictions in 2020 but they resumed again in 2021. The Guardia Civil encourages anyone who suffers a theft of this type to report it, no matter how minor the incident.

Although the price of avocados has been more constrained this season, and the harvest is smaller, plenty of people are keen to get their hands on them. “If someone thinks they can be sold for 2.20 euros or 2.50 euros, they feel it is still worth stealing them,” says Jorge. Many of the thieves live outside the area, but they know which plantations have no fences and are near roads.

The Roca unit also carries out checks at warehouses, which have to ask for ID in order to register farmers who buy fruit. “Unfortunately there will always be some thefts, but we are here to ensure that they are as few as possible,” Jorge said.

The drought is also a concern for the Guardia Civil, as some people are taking water illegally and creating reservoirs. “Something has to be done to increase the supply of water available or the whole agricultural sector is going to be affected,” he explained.