Over the last decade, the demand for the nutrient-rich avocado has boomed globally. Avocados are berries and have the highest protein and oil content of any fruit.
This ‘superfood’ that has greenish or yellowish flesh with a buttery consistency, is also called "green gold".
According to reports, global avocado imports grew by 21% between 2012 and 2016 and the Global Avocado Market was valued at $9.14 billion in 2020.
Although the fruit is native to Mexico, it is now grown in many different regions across the globe. One such country is South Africa, where the avocado industry has been expanding steadily from the early 1970s.
Some varieties of avocados that are most commonly grown for commercial use in South Africa are Hass Avos, Fuerte, Pinkerton and Edranol.
South Africa is one of Africa's top avocado producers. It was the world’s sixth-biggest exporter of avocados in 2019 according to UN trade figures.
But in South Africa's quiet tropical town of Tzaneen, the global boom has led to a scourge of avocado theft. South Africa’s avocado harvest season starts in March and this is a prime time for theft.
Thousands of tonnes of avocados have been stolen over the past five years, according to the South African Subtropical Growers' Association.
Most of the stolen produce is first-grade fruit meant for export, mainly to Europe, where it can sell to wholesalers for up to €10 or $12 per kg.
Despite the large local production volumes, South Africa has seen an acute seasonal shortage of avocados in early 2021.
The average annual loss in South Africa is around 24 million rand. Faced with increasingly frequent raids, farmers have invested heavily in armed security and fencing to keep this unlikely commodity safe.