There are over 800 000 workers employed in the agricultural sector in SA

The Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (Dalrrd) Thoko Didiza.

The Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (Dalrrd) Thoko Didiza.

Published May 20, 2023


Overall, employment in the agricultural sector increased by 41.6%, from 627 000 jobs in the first quarter of 2011 to 888 000 in the first quarter of this year, according to the Macroeconomic Digest Labour Report of the first quarter of this year.

According to the report published by the National Agricultural Marketing Council(Namc) on Thursday, long-term trends showed a large increase in agricultural employment. However, there were periods where agricultural employment declined.

These periodical decreases were attributed to seasonal employment as farmers tend to employ more workers on certain periods of a particular marketing season.

This report published by Namc provides an overview of employment figures by industry, province, and gender composition in the agricultural sector.

The figures in this publication are based on data obtained from Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) published by Statistics South Africa on Tuesday. The QLFS provides an overview of the observed changes in the key labour market indicators between the first quarter (January - March) of this year and the fourth quarter (October - December) of last year.

It showed that the number of employed persons increased by 258 000 to 16.2 million in the first quarter of this year, while the number of unemployed persons increased by 179 000 to 7.9 million compared to the fourth quarter of last year, resulting in an increase of 0.2% in the number of people in the labour force.

Stats SA (2022) observed that a large number of persons moved from the ‘’not economically active’’ category to the "employed" and "unemployed" statuses between the fourth of last year and the first quarter of this year, which resulted in an increase of 0.2 percentage point in the unemployment rate to 32.9%.

Namc's data showed that the increase in the agricultural sector employment could be attributed to seasonal employment in the pome fruit (apples and pears) industry which started in January this year. The lemon and soft citrus industries also started with a new season.

Five provinces recorded an increase in employment in the agricultural sector, while four recorded decreases during the same period.

By province, the largest increase in employment in percentage terms was recorded in Limpopo (15.2%), followed by the Western Cape (12.6%), KwaZulu-Natal (10.4%), North West (1.8%), and a marginal increase of 0.7% in the Eastern Cape.

The Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Free State and Gauteng provinces recorded decreases of 21.6%, 12.2%, 9.2% and 3.9%, respectively.

According to this report, difficulties such as the safety regulations related to cold treatment in the EU faced by the citrus industry, one of the largest industries within the fruit sub-sector, presented a serious threat to this year’s overall employment. It said this would possibly be visible in the second data and later in the overall sectors’ employment.

‘’The ongoing electricity cuts presented a persisting threat in the overall horticultural industry as most of its products are produced under irrigation,’ it added.

On Wednesday, the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (Dalrrd) Thoko Didiza said she was encouraged by the agricultural sectors overall contribution to the country’s employment which she described as well above the long-term agricultural employment of 780 000.

‘’The resilience shown by the KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Western Cape in this annual job improvement is encouraging and speaks to efforts these regions and stakeholders have made to support the agricultural sector. The strong production conditions of various field crops, fruits, forestry and aquaculture were behind the improvement in agricultural jobs in the first quarter, and mainly in these provinces. Other provinces of the country experienced production challenges that weighed on employment at the start of the year,’’ Didiza said.

She added that while crop planting in different areas of the country was delayed due to excessive rains, and farmers also had to face high input costs, and persistent load-shedding, the outlook for the sector still looks positive.

“Various government interventions to ease the load-shedding burden on farmers, such as the launch of the Agro-Energy Fund with Land Bank, load curtailment by Eskom expansion of the diesel rebate to the food value chain will have a positive impact,” Didiza said.

Through the government’s Crop Estimate Committee, Didiza said they estimated that the 2022/23 commercial maize harvest would be at about 15.9 million, 3% higher than the 2021/22 season's harvest and the third-largest harvest on record.

In addition, soya beans harvest was estimated at a record 2.8 million tonnes and sugar cane crop would likely increase by 3% to 18.5 million tonnes in 2023/24.