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Black spots, plucked out stems, here’s how to spot stolen avocados

Business Insider SA
Old wrinkled avocado with mold. (Image: Getty)
Old wrinkled avocado with mold. (Image: Getty)
  • Avocados are a delicate fruit, and farmers follow strict protocols to ensure it is of good quality for consumers.
  • With avocado theft on the rise, there are some ways to check whether they are stolen.
  • If the fruit is without a piece of the stem attached to it, it was likely stolen.
  • If it rots instead of ripening, it may have been stolen before maturing
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

As avocados gain more and more popularity in South Africa, one problem persists for farmers: the rise in the theft of the green-single-seeded fruit.

When the pandemic surfaced in the country in March 2020, fruit theft also rose, said Richardt Bouwer, a general farm manager for Richbok, an avocado farm located in Witvlag, Limpopo, a key producing province.

"In the industry, avocado theft is quite a big headache. The Covid-19 lockdown had a huge impact on fresh produce thievery in general… and the illegal trade in fruits and avocados has also boomed enormously," Bouwer told Business Insider South Africa.

Bouwer said avocado theft was seasonal, with most of the activity happening during the fruit's picking season and as farmers conduct quality tests.

"It's seasonal; when the farmers start to test fruit for ripening situations, to test fruit either for the local market or for exports, then usually, the theft will start," he said.

He said most fruit thieves target a cluster of farms and pick on the edges of the farms by the side of the road, where it is easier to load the fruit. He said it is also common in areas close to general shops, spazas, and roadside stalls.

Here's what you should look out for when buying avocados

The first tell-tale sign that avocados may be stolen is if the fruit is being sold for what feels like a bargain.

"Avos aren't cheap," Bouwer said.

Avocado orchardists have significant input costs, such as bacteria management. Producing good quality fruit is an expensive exercise.

Professional farmers also don't compromise on the quality of the fruit and spray against parasites and fungal diseases that may cause the fruit to rot or develop black spot disease. Black Spot starts off as brown marks on the skin of the avo that eventually blackens.

"Farmers spray their fruit to get the best quality out of their fruits. [They] spray for Black Spot so the skins of the avos can be clean and smooth. Usually, there are a lot of avos that have not been sprayed which can also mean that those avos were stolen before they were sprayed," Bouwer said.

Most stolen fruit is also picked off orchards before maturation which completely halts the avocado's natural ripening process. The fruit normally takes between 7 and 14 days to fully ripen, but if harvested off a tree before maturing, it rots instead of ripening.

"The avos won't ripen; they shrink like raisins, and on the top of the avo where the stems are supposed to be, they rot. That is a typical mark of an avo that has been picked in an immature stage of its cycle," he said.

At harvest, the avos are picked by hand to protect their delicate skins and aren't hit off the trees using a stick that is likely to damage them.

When picking the avos, the stems are retained on the fruit, only to be cut later.

"[On] a lot of stolen fruit, you can see the stems are broken off. When you take an avocado and pull off the stem, it leaves a big hole," said Bouwer.

When the end of the stem is removed from the fruit, that can cause the avo to rot, he said.

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