ICYMI: Growth in agri jobs reflects healthy sector

In the third quarter of 2021, agricultural employment increased by 3% year on year to 829 000, and the South African berry industry is growing with raspberries and blackberries leading the charge

Agricultural employment increased by 3% year on year to 829 000. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Agricultural employment increased by 3% year on year to 829 000. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The recent quarterly labour force survey data released by Statistics South Africa showed growth in agricultural jobs, which the agricultural business chamber (Agbiz) believes reflects a healthy sector.

In the third quarter of 2021, agricultural employment increased by 3% year on year to 829 000, which is well above the long-term agricultural employment of 780 000.

According to Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo, the third quarter of each year is typically not a busy period for agriculture. As a result, employment is down 4% from the second quarter – a busy harvesting period for field crops, with seasonal employment opportunities.

Four provinces underpinned the improvement in agricultural jobs in the third quarter, namely the Western Cape (up 44% year on year), Eastern Cape (up 10% year on year), Northern Cape (up 19% year on year) and Free State (up 48% year on year).

A decline in employment

Meanwhile, the rest of the five provinces registered a decline in employment in the third quarter of 2021 compared with last year’s corresponding period.

“The 2020 surveys were done at a period of heightened uncertainty with numerous harsh lockdowns that severely affected the Western and Northern Cape, where the wine industry is amongst the dominant employers.

“Hence, the employment numbers for these provinces should be read with the recognition that they are from a lower base. The game industry, forestry, livestock and fisheries were amongst the subsectors that registered a notable decline in employment compared to the third quarter of 2020,” Sihlobo said.

However, South Africa’s agricultural sector is healthy, and its jobs market reflects the optimism, Sihlobo pointed out.

The Western and Northern Cape agricultural employment has recovered following a slump in months after the temporary ban on alcohol sales.

“This speaks to a rebuilding effort that producer organisations have been undertaking over the past few months,” Sihlobo said.

Notably, the employment data will remain of interest following the 16,1% increase in the farm minimum wage to R21,69 per hour with effect on 1 March 2021.

At the time of its publication, various commodity groups indicated that the increase in the minimum wage would cause a further squeeze on cash flow and negatively influence hiring decisions.

But, the actual effects of the current minimum wage increase on jobs will only be apparent with a lag, Sihlobo reckoned.

“The favourable agricultural conditions, combined with higher commodity prices, have also improved the farmers’ financial conditions and, thus, temporarily eased the pressure of minimum wage increase. We will continue to monitor the data. Fundamentally, the agricultural economy is on a solid footing for a second consecutive year,” he said.

ALSO READ: Agri creates 69 000 new jobs amid unemployment surge

Blackberries and raspberries on the rise

The South Africa berry industry is seemingly growing in popularity with raspberries and blackberries seeing benefit from this. According to a report by FreshPlaza.com blackberries and raspberries are benefiting from a soft fruit trend.

“Over the past month, the blackberry harvest has picked up, and just over 17 tonnes have been exported during the 2021/22 season. 193 tonnes of blackberries were exported in 2020/21, which was itself part of a steep rise since 2014/15 when 12 tonnes of blackberries were exported,” FreshPlaza.com reports.

In 2018/2019, according to statistics, 51% of South Africa’s blackberries went to the Middle East and 47% to the UK.

Raspberry exports have grown over the past few years and there are trials underway of new raspberry varieties. There are fewer than ten raspberry producers in South Africa, many of them at the coast, some on the Highveld.

Thus far, just under 298 tonnes of raspberries have been exported; the 2020/21 season ended on over 1,500 tonnes.

Meanwhile in the 2019-2020 season, the UK took 61% of South Africa’s raspberries and the Middle East 29%. The product is flown out.

Raspberries, blackberries and red currants continue to grow in popularity in most countries, with red currants lagging slightly behind the other two berries in some places.

In South Africa, the growing interest in blueberries has increased the popularity of the segment as a whole, with raspberries and blackberries in particular seeing benefit from this.

Heavy rains during the growing seasons in Mexico and Australia have had some effects on the volume and quality of berries, although the damage in Australia has been limited due to the protection of covered cultivation.

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