Greek olive grower Panagiotis Tsafaras has been forced to patrol his groves twice a day recently to fend off thieves trying to steal the crop as prices rise during a poor harvest.
Tsafaras has been robbed twice, with thieves stealing more than a tonne of his olives in one incident last month.
“It’s the first time this is happening. We had never experienced this in our region,” said Tsafaras, 63, who has been harvesting olives all of his life in the seaside town of Filiatra in the southern Peloponnese peninsula.
Other producers across the country have taken more extreme measures, installing cameras and GPS trackers on trees as well as considering hiring private security.
“When I saw it, I was shocked, I was sad and then I thought: What’s this, why is it happening?” Tsafaras said of the theft.
Tsafaras says thieves strike at night. They use rods to beat the olives off the trees or silent electric chainsaws to cut entire branches that they load on pickup trucks. To avoid being caught they extract the oil in different areas from the region in which the crop was stolen.
Greek police confirmed to Reuters that there is a spike in thefts of olives and olive oil across the country this year.
Greece is the world’s third-biggest producer of olive oil behind Italy and Spain, which have seen similar incidents. Known as “extra virgin,” the Greek variety is particularly sought-after for its high quality.
This year’s production is seen dropping up to 50% to roughly 170,000 tones, according to government officials. The yield will be the lowest in years, mainly due to erratic weather conditions, including storms, droughts and soaring temperatures that have dried up the olives.
The decline in output has doubled olive oil wholesale prices to 8-9 euros per litre, according to government officials. Retail prices have reached up to 14 euros, making the crop an appealing target for thieves.
Filiatra, which boasts a 26-metre-high 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 Greece’s output of olives.
“These are sad things,” said 37-year old olive grower Dimitris Plakonouris, who owns 2,000 trees in Filiatra, referring to the thefts.
“The only measure we can take is to collect the olives as quickly as possible so that thieves can’t steal them from us,” Plakonouris said.
Oil mill owner Panagiotis Foudas said reports of thefts have already forced him and his business partner to take action.
“We have installed security cameras and an alarm, we have fenced off the area of the oil mill to protect the crop and we are trying to patrol at night,” he said.