The recent quarterly labour force survey data released by Statistic South Africa confirmed the resilience of agriculture even when it is faced with difficulty. This is according to First National Bank senior agricultural economist Paul Makube.
Makube said although the report showed a slight decline in the official unemployment rate, agriculture played a significant role.
A positive outlook
“The agriculture sector was boosted with an addition of 61 146 on quarter to quarter and 82 984 jobs year on year in the third quarter of 2023. This is despite the tough operating environment characterised by disease outbreaks and infrastructure challenges such as a dilapidated road network.
“At current levels, employment in the primary agriculture sector is well above the longer-term trend of 793 000 people,” he said.
According to Makube, a good regional spread of jobs was added with gainers being the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, North West and Gauteng. The Free State, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, however, saw losses in employment numbers.
“An uptick in employment numbers is a step in the right direction in helping fight the scourge of unemployment in the country.”
More growth is on the cards
“Agriculture has the potential to add more jobs, and this may be realised if impediments to growth are addressed by expediting the improvement of efficiencies in ports, fixing the rail system to ensure bulk agriculture produce gets back on the rail, and repairing road infrastructure that has proven costly for producers,” he said.
Makube said the El Niño scare seems to have dissipated with forecasts still calling for rains in the early part of the current crop season, which bodes well for agriculture.
“Farmers are even optimistic in the field crop category with the first intentions to plant indicating an increase of 2% year on year in the maize area, the country’s biggest staple,” he said.
Flourishing despite challenges
Makube said despite the many challenges the country faces, the data reflected an employment increase of 979 378 heads in the third quarter with 2.46 million jobs added over the past eight consecutive quarters.
“The seasonal increase in activity with bumper harvests in full swing for both the field grains and oilseeds and horticultural crops in the third quarter more than offset declines in the livestock industry which is the biggest with a share of 42% of total gross producer value of agriculture during the 2021/22 season,” he said.
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