Employment boom for one of South Africa’s most important job sectors

 ·13 Dec 2022

South African farms that feed the country and export goods worldwide are employing more people – despite data from Stats SA suggesting the opposite, says the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP).

Statistics South Africa’s (StatsSA) Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) suggested that the agriculture sector saw significant job losses in the last few years – however, the latest BFAP Agricultural Employment Brief for 2022 pointed to job growth.

According to the BFAP, the QLFS shows no clear methodology in the weighting of its surveys, and Stats SA’s reporting may also have been affected by varying survey responses in light of the pandemic and a continued lower-than-normal response rate.

“While there was a noticeable improvement in the past year with total survey responses of around 62,700 in the past quarter, this is still 7% lower than the average number of responses recorded in 2019,” said BFAP.

In 2016, the QLFS and Agricultural Survey had more or less the same level of farm workers, at around 736,000, the group said.

“Since then, the jobs reported between these two sources started to diverge significantly, most notably in 2020, whereby the Annual Survey recorded an employment total that was 15% higher than that of the QLFS.”

“What is more striking about this deviation is that these two sources suggest a contrasting trend over time. The QLFS shows an agricultural labour market in flux, whereas the Agricultural Survey suggests job creation, especially between 2020 and 2021.”

The BFAP believes that given the known challenges associated with the QLFS, the Agricultural Survey trend is a more realistic reflection of the agricultural industry and better illustrates the economic environment of the sector of the past few years.

The data below indicates an upward trend in the number of employed farm workers:

BFAP noted that an upward trend in employment is not guaranteed to continue indefinitely, however.

Between 2020 and 2021, farm worker employment is primarily centred in the Western Cape, where 186,600 farmworkers have been employed. This is owing to the relatively high concentration of labour-intensive industries, mainly irrigated fruit orchards and vineyards, said the BFAP.

“Western Cape farmers, who produced around 20% of farm income in 2021, employed some 23% of the farm workers in the country in 2021.”

Limpopo, which used to employ the second most farmworkers, reported a decline in jobs falling into the third position behind KwaZulu-Natal. BFAP reported that besides Limpopo, the only other province that experienced job losses was the North West.

All other provinces saw decent growth in the number of employed individuals working on farms, said BFAP.

Read: This high-paying job is in huge demand in South Africa – with the private sector paying 10% more than government

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