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Thieves with chainsaws are going after 150-year-old olive trees: 'You kill your own history'

"Not only do they steal our olives, but they cause the tree serious harm."

"Not only do they steal our olives, but they cause the tree serious harm."

Photo Credit: iStock

In a piece of news that would leave the Lorax weeping, thieves with chainsaws are cutting down 150-year-old trees, sometimes leaving nothing but a stump where they once stood. 

Changing weather patterns caused by human activity have wreaked havoc on olive growers worldwide, diminishing their output and causing olive oil prices to spike

As reported by the Associated Press, these surging prices are now a money-making opportunity for criminals across the Mediterranean. 

Reports of warehouse break-ins, diluting high-grade oil with inferior products, and falsifying shipping data are growing in Greece, Spain, and Italy, where olive orchards thrive. Now, the publication reports, chainsaw-wielding gangs are chopping down olive-laden branches and even entire trees from unguarded groves.

"The (robbers) look for heavily loaded branches and they cut them," Neilos Papachristou, who runs an olive mill and grove in a fourth-generation family business, told AP News. "So, not only do they steal our olives, but they cause the tree serious harm. It takes 4-5 years for it to return to normal."

The thefts mean even fewer olives left for growers already fighting the effects of a rapidly overheating planet — extreme heat and drought in some places and too much precipitation in others — and growers in Italy, Greece, and Spain are pleading with authorities to step up. A company in Spain has made tracking devices that look like olives to try to catch the thieves. 

The thefts lead to even lower yields, driving some growers to harvest early to avoid long-term damage to their trees from the thieves. 

Christos Bekas, a farmer with 5,000 olive trees who has experienced multiple thefts, reported that harvesting early has required two-and-a-half times as many olives by weight to produce a kilogram of oil as it did last year. 

Prices for the liquid gold more than tripled from their 2019 prices in all three major regions, meaning the price on the fruit's head is heavy. Some farmers have even taken to sleeping among their trees in hopes of deterring thieves, who not only destroy the farmers' livelihoods but also the ancient trees and the cultural tradition attached to them. 

"This is a felony," said Athens grower Konstantinos Markou. "You kill your own history here."

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