Agriculture creates jobs as other sectors decline

While South Africa’s unemployment rate has worsened steadily, the country’s agricultural sector is one of the few that has been creating jobs.

“Evidence is emerging that, due to agriculture’s strong growth performance in the past two years, employment has been increasing,” the Bureau for Agricultural Policy (BFAP) said in commentary on the latest unemployment statistics from StatsSA. 

“This again highlights the important contribution the agricultural value chain is making towards employment, particularly when most other sectors are shedding jobs.”

The BFAP repeated its contention that changes in the surveying methodology for agriculture at the start of the Covid-19 lockdowns had resulted in erroneous reports of 70 000 agricultural job losses in the second and third quarters of 2020.

This did not align with the strong agricultural sector growth at the time, BFAP said. Its suspicions had been confirmed by the increased farm employment shown in StatsSA’s recently released Agricultural Survey for 2020, as well as the most recent GDP numbers showing continued real agricultural GDP growth in the sector of 8.3% in 2021.

Instead of a loss of agricultural jobs in 2020, the BFAP contended that the agricultural sector had added jobs in both 2020 and 21.
“The implication is that care should be taken to interpret the labour force survey trends from 2020 quarter 2 onwards,” BFAP said in its Employment Brief for the fourth quarter of 2021. 

In that quarter, the official unemployment rate reached another record high of 35.3%. When an additional 3.8 million discouraged workseekers are included, 44.6% of the county’s total labour force cannot find jobs or have stopped looking for them. 

“The encouraging news is that a few industries have actually managed to grow their employment base, with the agricultural sector amongst them. In the past quarter around 38 000 jobs were added to end 2021’s aggregated total at 2% higher than 2020 for the full year.

“The only other industries that had a net positive employment creation impact in the past year were transport, finance and private households (mainly domestic workers),” BFAP said. 

Image: Lizzie Makichini is the processing production manager at the Grain Field Chickens abattoir in Reitz. She is responsible for the functioning of a plant that processes 850 000 chickens a week.