The employment result for the first quarter of 2022, which were announced by Stats SA in its Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) today, showcase the continued importance of the agricultural sector as an employer – especially in a country characterised by endemic unemployment.
While Agri SA notes that employment in the sector decreased by 23 000 jobs quarter-on-quarter, from 868 000 in Q4 of 2021 to 844 00 in Q1 of 2022, it is pleased that, year-on-year, employment numbers are up by 52 000 jobs (having stood at 792 000 in Q1 of 2021) which equates to 6,6% growth over the period.
Provincial employment numbers for the sector of note include the growth in both the Western Cape, which has gained 68 000 jobs year-on-year (representing a 49.8% increase), and the Free State, which has gained 29 000 jobs year-on-year (representing a 52,7% increase). By contrast, year-on-year growth figures were down in both KwaZulu-Natal, which has lost 44 000 jobs (representing a 34,2% decrease), and Gauteng which has lost 15 000 jobs (representing 34,7% decrease).
Despite this most recent QLFS showing positive overall results, the sector’s growth continues to be stifled by poor infrastructure such as road, rail and ports, amongst many other challenges like rising input costs.
Earlier today Agri SA proposed that government consider using increases in the diesel refund system as a targeted intervention to combat rising fuel costs for the agri sector.
While the government has subsequently indicated a short-term extension of relief from the general levy, should oil prices remain high, the diesel refund system remains a relatively fiscally viable option into the future. Farmers do not control food prices beyond their gate, however, assistance to contain this particular input cost would also help to promote food security.
It is vital that these and other challenges facing the sector are addressed if it is to reach the goals set out for it by the National Development Plan (NDP) for 2030 – particularly of achieving a million jobs in the sector. Agriculture is a critical partner for job creation in rural areas of South Africa and employment in the sector has even more potential for poverty alleviation.
The recently signed Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan (AAMP) has the potential to be a catalyst for assessing the primary drivers of job creation in the agriculture sector, particularly in labour-intensive subsectors.
A recent study involving Agri SA and the Institute of Future Research (which focussed on the future of work in the agricultural sector to alleviate poverty) found that it is necessary to ensure that growth in the sector had an influence on low income and poor South African’s earnings.
There are numerous ways of achieving this, including linking farmers to markets, bolstering agribusinesses, and producing non-farm income in rural areas, all of which would assist to boost income and create jobs.
Proactive policies are needed to achieve this and make agriculture sustainable, support smallholder farmers to grow and become bigger employers as well as escalate infrastructure development.
Agri SA and its members are committed to working with all relevant stakeholders to ensure the agri sector continues to provide much-needed employment and growth for South Africa.