Scenes with patrols in Greek olive groves and reports with Greek olive producers monitoring their trees up to twice a day to prevent potential thieves from stealing their harvest are highlighted by the international news agency Reuters, giving an international dimension to the new problem facing the Greek countryside.
According to Reuters, Panagiotis Tsafaras, an olive producer from Filiatra, Messinia, recently had to patrol his groves twice a day to prevent potential thieves from stealing the harvest as prices are rising, and this year is expected to be a very poor one in terms of yield.
P. Tsafaras has already experienced two thefts, with thieves stealing over a ton of olives in an incident last month.
“This is the first time this has happened. We had never experienced this in our area before,” said Tsafaras, 63, to Reuters, an agriculturist in this region of southern Peloponnese throughout his entire working life.
Other producers across the country have taken more extreme measures, installing cameras and GPS in trees, and some have even considered hiring private security.
“When I saw it, I was shocked, saddened, and then I thought, what is this, why is this happening?” Tsafaras wondered, referring to the theft.
Tsafaras explained that thieves prefer to strike at night. They use sticks to hit the olives from the trees or electric chainsaws that make little noise to cut whole branches, which are then loaded onto trucks. To avoid getting caught, they transport the oil to different areas from where the harvest was stolen.
Greek police confirmed to Reuters that there is an increase in olive and olive oil thefts across the country this year.
As Reuters points out, Greece is the third largest producer of olive oil in the world, behind Italy and Spain, both of which have faced similar incidents. Known as “extra virgin,” the Greek variety is particularly sought after for its high quality.
Greek production halved
This year’s production is estimated to be reduced by up to 50% to about 170,000 tons, according to government officials. Yield will be the lowest in years, mainly due to unstable weather conditions, including storms, drought, and high temperatures that have dried the olives.
The reduction in production has doubled wholesale olive oil prices to 8-9 euros per liter, according to government officials. Retail prices have reached up to 14 euros per kilogram, making cultivation an attractive target for thieves.
Filiatra, which can boast a 26-meter replica of the Eiffel Tower at its entrance, is a quiet town in a fertile plain of 5 million trees that contribute 10-12% of Greek olive production.
“It’s a sad thing,” said 37-year-old olive producer Dimitris Plakounouris, owner of 2,000 trees in Filiatra, referring to the thefts.
“The only measure we can take is to harvest the olives as quickly as possible to prevent them from being stolen,” added Mr. Plakounouris.
Olive mill owner Panagiotis Foudas, on his part, stated that the reports of theft have already forced him and his colleague to take action.
“We have installed security cameras and alarms, we have fenced the area of the olive mill to protect the harvest, and we are trying to patrol at night,” he concluded