Young planters are losing interest in the demanding career because their hard work is being stripped by thieves preying on their plantations, growers say.
Titikaveka Growers Association president Teava Iro, says the stealing of produce was simply not acceptable. “These thieves are trying to get a quick buck from other people’s hard work,” Iro says.
He is calling for registration or accreditation, so buyers can recognise the produce they’re buying comes from an honest source. Thieves won’t be able to sell what they steal this way, Iro says.
One young planter in Titikaveka had his plot of lemon and lime trees stripped clean last week and 200 kg of limes and lemons were stolen. The lemons taken still very green because they were picked too early.
He is fed up with thieves raiding his produce. Another local, Reuben Tylor, said this was not the first time thieves had raided the young man’s plantation.
Last time the young planter caught them red-handed and dealt with them himself; this time he needed help from the hotels and restaurants to catch the thief.
Tylor said: “Please make sure you are buying produce from real growers, and not from thieves. Your local staff will know which young men have plantations.”
The Police said produce theft was usually only reported on the occasion; it was most helpful when there were eyewitness accounts of irregular activity or strange people seen in the area.
Police spokesman Trevor Pitt said thieves were known to be mobile and to visit plantations on vehicles prepared to load up quickly.
They could also act opportunistically when they felt they could get away with it, he said, or knew the grower was occupied elsewhere.
“The ownership of our agriculture industry is characterised by numerous plots that are often separated by some distance,” said Pitt. “That makes supervision difficult.”
Teava Iro said there was a lot of money in planting, and that was why thieves targeted plantations. It was easy for them to scout plantations and hard for planters to watch their crops, especially at night.
“We have a so-called good economy but Cook Islanders are leaving, we need to empower our local people and encourage more planters and more local produce.”
A few years ago Iro himself was devastated when his taro patch was raided.
“Planters and buyers and market vendors need to work together to make sure they aren’t buying stolen produce.”
– If you purchased a large quantity of lemons and limes around July 9 from a new supplier, please call police.