Around 200 carob farmers held a protest in Loulé to demand action over a wave of “nearly daily thefts” affecting citrus fruit, avocado and carob producers.
The demonstration was held last Friday (July 29) in front of the city hall of Loulé – the Algarve municipality that has the country’s largest extension of carob, a dryland crop – by the AGRUPA cooperative, the region’s sole association of carob and almond farmers, with around 400 members.
The goal – to urge the government to enact a law already proposed by a working group as part of an action plan to combat these thefts.
Holding signs reading strong statements such as “there is a law prepared, but the minister is stalled”, “carobs belong to those who produce them, end the thefts” and “we are tired of being robbed,” farmers voiced their concerns and criticised the government for failing to act.
“Producers are tired of waiting for the law to be published,” AGRUPA president Horácio Piedade told Lusa news agency, adding that the proposed law was sent by the Regional Agriculture Board to the Ministry of Agriculture around one year ago.
According to Piedade, farmers were forced to take their fight to the street by Agriculture Minister Maria do Céu Antunes, who has ignored their pleas so far.
Carob thefts are increasing, he warns, having started at carob tree groves but likely to extend to warehouses where carobs are kept as in previous years.
Piedade stresses that the proposed law includes “concrete measures which can prevent thefts,” such as forcing buyers to register with the Institute of Financing for Agriculture and Fishing (IFAP).
This would help control the carob market in the Algarve and “at least stop most of the thefts”.
Among the protesting carob producers is Macário Correia, former Secretary of State of Environment and former mayor of Tavira and Faro.
Now a carob farmer himself in Tavira, Correia said he has been a victim of several thefts and urged the government to “urgently move forward with legislation” to prevent them.
“This year is a special year because there is more production and prices are higher. Thefts started several years ago,” the retired politician explained.
He adds that “this could all be avoided” if the Minister of Agriculture implemented the proposed law which has been “on her desk for over a year.”
“The minister does not publish anything, do anything, and at this moment there is a general wave of thefts. This government has ministers whom I have esteem for, but from the Minister of Agriculture I have not seen anything yet, and in this concrete case, it is only up to her to make a decision,” Correia lamented.
As he stresses, “at the moment there are no administrative mechanisms to protect those who work”.
It would be as simple as demanding that receipts have an identification number proving that the seller is the owner of land with carob trees, Correia said.
He added that there are “legal and tax mechanisms to control the problem,” but if the government continues to “not do anything as it has so far, farmers will continue to be robbed on a daily basis.”
Meanwhile, carob farmers have warned that they might resort to more extreme protests if nothing is done.
“If the legislation is not published soon, the protests may take other forms, such as cutting off the EN125 road in August. We did not want to reach this point, but if we continue to be robbed, we won’t have a choice,” said Piedade.