The situation is made much worse by the fact that many of them can no longer get insurance as they are deemed too high-risk

Free State farmers say crime is costing them up to R1.4bn a year — a "conservative" estimate based on a new survey of 76 commercial farms.

Farmers say the cumulative effect of burglaries‚ vehicle and stock theft is compounded by the fact that more than 50% of their livestock is uninsured.

The survey‚ conducted in the Virginia district by the Free State Agriculture (FSA) Safety Desk‚ found that the annual cost of crime in rural areas ranged between R564m and R1.4bn. The figure excluded the estimated 20%-25% under-reporting of criminal incidents.

"Some farmers also do not qualify for insurance any more‚ as they have had to claim for theft many times and are regarded as a high risk‚" FSA said in a statement.

Among the long list of items targeted by criminals are scrap metal (including solar panels‚ iron rods and corrugated iron)‚ copper cable theft‚ maize and diesel.

However‚ the number of prosecutions in relation to reported crimes was only about 5%‚ FSA said.

"When a farmer’s solar panels are stolen‚ he can lose a week’s labour and production to replace the items‚ not to mention the loss of time and inconvenience it causes‚" the statement said.

"It can take a commercial farmer up to 10 days to have a pivot back in action after theft. Many hours of labour as well as production are lost due to such an incident.

"When fences and iron rods are stolen‚ it is a farmer’s responsibility to replace the stolen items as animals can move into road reserves (and) that poses a great risk for motorists in terms of serious accidents or loss of life. To continuously replace fences due to criminal activities cause serious financial costs to a farmer."

Farmers were also increasingly clashing with "Zama-Zamas" — illegal miners — who sometimes lived on their land or on old mines.

"Some of the Zama-Zamas live in old ruins on mines and they are usually armed‚ which causes more risks for a farmer who wants to remove them from his land.

"Most of the vehicles active on rural roads at night transport Zama-Zamas that are stealing mining equipment. This can cause large-scale confrontations as Zama-Zamas are usually armed and farmers are not necessarily prepared for that.

"Farmers are requested to please break down any old buildings or ruins which are not being used‚ so that it cannot become a hotspot for illegal activities‚" the FSA said.

Stock thieves were also using hunting dogs to maximise their returns.

"Incidents of illegal hunting with dogs have increased alarmingly in the province‚ with a farmer from Steynsrus who has lost game to the value of R220,000 because of dogs killing animals‚" FSA said.

"They will use the dogs to attack cattle‚ and while the cattle are trying to fend off the dogs‚ the suspects steal calves.

"This theft has been covered up by packing porcupine carcasses in the top of bags‚ so that farmers or the police do not search bags further."

TMG Digital

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