11 November 2009
South Africa’s agricultural sector is both one of its most critical and most vulnerable: critical in that it supplies the entire southern African region with more than 60% of its grain, 66% of its meat and produces the majority of the region’s sugar, milk and fresh fruit. Vulnerable because its farms are ongoing targets of criminal attacks and stock thefts, which are compounding the debilitating effects of floods, droughts, urbanisation and land degradation.
In fact, said AgriSA’s rural safety committee chairman Andre Botha in a statement early this year, robbery and theft are having “serious financial implications” on the sector, which has reportedly seen more than a thousand farmers, workers and family members murdered in nearly 8 000 attacks between 1994 and 2005.
Concerned but not surprised by the ruthless victimisation of the sector, Rory Webber, national sales manager for Elvey Security Technologies, says farms present easy targets for the criminally inclined. “Farms are often situated in remote locations, poorly secured and easily accessed. Compared with their urban counterparts, which boast perimeter protection such as electric fencing and CCTV (closed circuit television) as well as speedy armed response and police reaction time, farms are very often sitting ducks.”
While the security challenges around farm security are unarguably demanding, today’s advanced security technology makes it possible safeguard lives, stock and assets within reasonable budgets, he maintains. “Being able to protect hundreds or even thousands of hectares in remote settings is often not financially viable. What is affordable is the protection of critically sensitive areas such as the homesteads, livestock, specific crops, machinery, storage facilities and generators.”
He elaborates: “The farming community has to contend with many challenges, not least of all being the time it takes for armed response companies or the police to respond to emergency callouts. Life-threatening incidents aside, farmers throughout the country are being regularly and badly hit by the ongoing theft of copper wire, which is costing them a fortune, not only in replacement cabling but also in losses arising from non-functioning irrigation systems and accordingly the resultant crop damage.”
Livestock theft is another headache for farmers. “Cattle pens can be quite a distance from the main house, which makes monitoring difficult and expensive when done by technology that requires underground cabling and a 24/7 human presence to watch the video footage.”
He continues: “Criminals in the guise of loiterers have their sites set on gaining access to the main house, where they believe they will find weapons, valuables and cash. This underlines the critical need for the highest levels of security around living areas.”
· Perimeter Protection
The first line of defence for any property, farm or otherwise, is the boundary says Mr Webber who believes the ideal perimeter protection solution for a smallholding comprises three elements.
The first is a physical barrier, which could be something as simple as the traditional diamond fence.
Within the fence line, he recommends the installation of Optex beams which would serve as a second and, this time invisible, fence. “I make mention of the Optex AX-350/650TF series for a number of reasons,” he says. “These photo beam sensors are able to detect intruders and trigger an alarm in the event of a breach. The new series of detectors also boasts dual beam, long-range sensors with external ranges of up to 200m and internal ranges of up to 400m, making them ideal for use in larger installations.”
Thirdly, he recommends the installation of an electric fence to complete the perimeter protection system.
· Irrigation Protection
The irrigation pivot, which is powered by electricity, is the heart of a farm’s irrigation system, avers Mr Webber. Fed from the main electrical box via copper cable, cabling can run for kilometres, which makes it relatively easy for criminals to remove and difficult to monitor.
To counter this problem, he says farmers are installing Bentel Security’s new BGSM-G, universal GSM/GPRS alarm communicator, which delivers reliable, secure, high-speed communication.
Able to be used as a primary alarm communicator when no PSTN line is available, it reports mains failure instantly, allowing for immediate action to be taken.
According to Mr Webber, the unit can also switch the irrigation pivot on and off via SMS, and advise of changes in water pressure and greenhouse air-conditioning malfunctions.
· Livestock and remote area protection
Having a dedicated security department to look after the various security aspects of a farm is enormously expensive, maintains Mr Webber. “Somehow, though, farmers have to find ways of protecting their livestock bearing in mind that kraals are usually fairly isolated and therefore vulnerable to criminals. CCTV-based security systems, which rely on direct power and fixed telephone lines to send alarm signals through to a control room, can be used in areas which have access to power but the success of these measures is regularly undermined by false alarms and the substantial installation costs of the cameras, which then only provide footage of the crime after it has occurred.”
Says Kenny Chiu, Marketing Manager for Elvey Security Technologies: “Though farmers around the country have invested heavily in CCTV and outdoor protection technology, these systems tend to be cumbersome and too expensive to deploy beyond a few critical sites. To locate an event, one has to sift through recorded video footage, which can take hours and even then may not yield the kind of evidence that will make it possible to identify and prosecute perpetrators.”
There are other problems too. “CCTV cameras require running wire - lots of it, in most cases - which can push the cost of installation up to more than that of the equipment,” points out Mr Chiu, who believes that video surveillance is the way to go for remote or large-scale outdoor environments.
In this regard, he recommends the use of Videofied, an award-winning wireless video system capable of managing the full gamut of a farm’s security requirements.
Zane Greeff, technical director for Elvey Security Technologies, explains how it works: “When an intruder trips the motion sensor, the integrated night vision camera takes a 10-second video while the Videofied alarm communicator sends an AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) signal over a secured cellular network to a monitoring station, cell phone or email address. On receipt of the video clip, the farmer can immediately take appropriate action.”
Fully waterproof, with anti-tamper and CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) black and white sensors, an 85 degree, wide angle lens and 320 x 240 pixel video resolution, Mr Greeff says these cameras have set a new benchmark in the field of video surveillance. He’s further impressed with the camera’s long battery life, two infrared LEDs (light emitting diode) which provide night illumination up to 12 metres, and its PIR (passive infrared) ability to detect movement and then activate the sophisticated Fresnel lens to begin recording in less than 100 milliseconds.
· Farmhouse protection
As criminals become more adept at finding their way through security systems, so the detection of unwanted intruders even before they enter the premises has become the focus of professional installers, says Mr Greeff.
“Rather than waiting for the criminal to trip a detector once he’s inside the house and when it’s more often than not too late to do anything, our advice is to install an early warning alarm system using outdoor detectors,” he says.
Of the many products available on the market today, he recommends the VX-402 detector, which he says offers superior outdoor protection and alarm integrity, and accordingly a low false alarm rate.
He also likes Optex’s BX-80N, a unique outdoor PIR detector that, when linked to CCTV cameras, can detect and video intruders at the fence line, hidden behind bushes or in the shadows.
“The day of the affordable, holistic security solution for farmers has dawned,” he says. “And not a moment too soon.”