Centre pivots now prey for scrap metal thieves

THEFT of cables and control systems from centre-pivot irrigation infrastructure has become a serious headache for irrigation farmers in Manicaland as they are now accruing huge costs through loss of production, damage to crops and replacing the stolen components.

Cable theft is a well-organised crime whose impact on businesses, the community and the economy at large is seismic.

The thieves are targeting cables, risers, motors and aluminum pipes, rendering most centre pivots dysfunctional.

While copper cable theft had grown to endemic level, particularly for electricity, telecommunication and railway sectors, the thieves have spread their activities to agriculture, where complacency and the lackadaisical approach to protecting the irrigation infrastructure by farmers is rife.

There is a ready market for copper cables, as scrap metal dealers buy stolen cables, melt it down, and turn them into ingots and granules that do not require scrap export permits.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the scrap metal industry in the province is in cahoots with the cable and copper syndicates, especially given the rate of theft and destruction of irrigation infrastructure.

Centre pivot machines are mechanised irrigation equipment that can lead to increased yields through use of less water.

However, their vandalism has left many farmers in dire straits.

Centre pivots irrigate in a circular pattern around a central pivot point, and are capable of applying water, fertiliser, chemicals, and herbicides to the crops.

Most centre pivot machines are electrically powered, using either a generator or electricity, and the vandalism occurs when they have been switched off, especially at night.

The thefts are more pronounced in Makoni, Mutasa and Mutare districts – something that is militating against the development of the province’s irrigation systems.

One of the victims, Mr Enerst Matienga of Lindaspool Farm in Rusape, said the impact of the thefts could run into several thousands of dollars a year, especially considering loss of production and damage to crops.

Mr Matienga said the wholesale stripping of critical copper infrastructure by criminals has reached endemic proportions, and said it requires urgent and coordinated intervention by the security cluster.

He said there is need to confront this criminal network before its tentacles entangle all sectors of the economy.

“Theft of equipment is rampant, and we have tried to hire security guards, but it is not bearing fruits as they get corrupted by the criminal gangs. We have a very serious problem because you cannot have a guard at each centre pivot station,” he said.

“They are stealing cables, risers and motors from the centre pivots, especially at night when the machines are off. They stole 30 risers during one night, and it costs US$100 to replace one.

“They also stole a 150m copper cable, and again I forked out US$5 000 to replace it. It’s a total loss. These are the emerging hazards, and farmers around this area are in serious trouble,” said Mr Matienga.

The criminals also stole a 50m cable at Lions Herd Farm, which belongs to Retired Major Ernest Jinjika.

The authorities in Rusape confirmed receiving the theft reports, but added that no arrests have been made so far.

Provincial Irrigation Engineer Tendai Chimunhu also confirmed the sad developments, adding that farmers are accruing additional costs as a result.

“This means the costs for the farmers are continuously going up. The thefts and vandalism of these centre pivots affects the farmer’s irrigation cycles. They steal the whole cable to extract the copper. The cable has more value when it is intact, but they strip it and remove the insulation to take the copper inside. Some centre pivots have aluminum pipes, which are also being stolen and sold to blacksmiths for the moulding of cooking pots,” said Engineer Chimunhu.

He said although no arrests have been made so far, players in the industry are working on a possible solution to the problem. – Manica Post


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