Theft worsens at country markets

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Theft worsens at country markets

Whole schools of fish and bunches of garlic are almost vanishing into thin air as acts of theft at country markets continue to plague fishers and farmers.

Mr. Kim, who owns an apiary in Chuncheon, Gangwon, lost 37 of his 62 bee hives in one night on May 23.

“That’s about 2 million won ($1,736.80),” said the 69-year-old bee farmer, “but I don’t care so much about that. I spent three months caring for those bees like they were my babies.”

Kim reported the theft to the police, but was told that the lack of CCTV cameras in the area would make an investigation difficult.

That same month, some 50 live fish were stolen from a fishing ship embarked at a port in Heuksan Island of South Jeolla. Marine police investigated the matter for a month but to no avail.

In South Jeolla alone, there were 174 reports of theft by farmers and fishermen in the past three years. Experts say there could be more.

“The actual number of thefts could be at least 10 times more,” said Ahn Sang-joon, professor of a training center of National Agricultural Cooperative Federation in Changnyeong County, South Gyeongsang.

Ahn said that many farmers tend not to report the thefts as it “only adds to the mess.”

It also does not help that many farmers in the country tend to be senior adults.

“More than 80 percent of this village are older than 65,” said Kim Han-wook, 70, head of the village community at Sindeok-ri 2 District of Hwasun County, South Jeolla.

“We have many visits from non-residents here,” he added, “yet there isn’t a single CCTV camera in town.”

If the low surveillance on farmed goods and the general old age of farmers do not already help thieves, they have yet another advantage: farmed goods, unlike art works or intellectual property, are not patented, and thieves can quickly sell them off.

When a man surnamed Kim, 36, stole 100 bunches of garlic (each bunch holding 100 garlic heads) from a farmer’s house in Taein-myeon of North Jeolla last month, he had little trouble selling them for roughly 3.3 million won at a wholesale market nearby. He simply had to dump them into his truck when the owner was absent and drive to one of the nearest markets.

The North Jeolla authorities will be increasing the number of CCTV cameras by the end of this year.

“There will be 100 percent CCTV camera coverage in the province by the end of the year,” said Shin Il-seop, head of the public safety division of the Jeonbuk Provincial Policy Agency. Out of the total 5,385 villages in North Jeolla, 4,436 villages, or 82.4 percent, are installed with CCTV cameras.

Sometimes the villagers take action, too. Since May 21, groups of young adults in Hamdeok-ri of Jeju Island have begun to stand watch in the local garlic fields every day.

“We will need to work with the locals and local governments,” Shin said, “because the area we cover is so much bigger in the country than in cities.”

BY KIM JUN-HEE, KIM HO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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