March 3, 2023


High losses of jobs in South Africa's agriculture sector raise concerns




South African agricultural organisation Agri SA said on February 28 that it was distressed by a drop of 12,000 jobs in South Africa's agriculture sector.


The comment came after Statistics South Africa's (StatsSA) reported the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the last quarter of last year.


Johan Wege, chairperson of Agri SA's Centre of Excellence for Labour, said although the loss of jobs was marginal for now, it pointed to the increasingly challenging environment in which farmers operated.


"The sector has shown itself to be remarkably resilient and was counted among the best performing sectors even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the tide is turning for one of the country's most labour-intensive sectors - rising input costs, endemic load shedding and crumbling infrastructure is placing severe strain on the agricultural sector," Wege said.


However, Agricultural Business Chamber chief economist Wandile Sihlobo said the data released painted a broadly comforting picture, showing that in the last quarter of last year, there were about 860 000 people employed in primary agriculture, which was well above the long-term agricultural employment of 780,000.


"Admittedly, some of the factors we mentioned did weigh on the sector as employment fell by 1% yearly and roughly the same rate from the third quarter of the year," Sihlobo said. "Except for summer crops and forestry, the decline in employment was in all sub-sectors with a significant decline in the livestock sector, which underscores the animal disease challenge.


"Furthermore, the higher feed cost was, and remains, an additional challenge for the livestock industry, along with a decline in red meat prices, all of which add pressure on farming businesses."


From a regional perspective, except for the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Free State, all South African provinces registered a mild decline in agricultural employment in the last quarter of last year compared with the corresponding period in 2021.


Agbiz said the employment outlook of the agriculture sector remained uncertain.


Farming business was challenged by persistent load shedding, which had increased input costs as some sought various means of energy generation that required extra capital.


"Moreover, the recent increases in minimum wages are a concern, specifically for the fruit industry," Agbiz said. "The farming input costs, such as fertilisers and agrochemicals, although having moderated somewhat from levels we saw in much of last year, remain fairly higher. All these will be added pressures on the farmers that could weigh on employment conditions."


Furthermore, Wege said that the commitments made by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in his recent State of the Nation Address needed to be an immediate priority to help save jobs and guarantee the nation's food security.


Clarity was also needed on the regulations published for the State of Disaster on the energy crisis by the Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.


"While food production and storage have been included as essential infrastructure, detail is needed as to what this entails and what relief it will provide for farmers," he said.



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