I have been thinking a bit about South Africa’s agricultural job market, after the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries promised to create half a million jobs by the year 2019. While I appreciate the optimism, such a target will not be attainable with current farming technologies and erratic weather conditions. Actually, there already were jobs cut in the agricultural sector at the beginning of last year. Combined, the agricultural job cuts for the past three quarters of 2017 are at 109 000. This placed South Africa’s agricultural labour force at 810 000 jobs. This was mainly due to reduced activity in the Western Cape province caused by drier weather conditions.
Without getting into detail of government plans to create ‘jobs’, the long-term trend of the agricultural labour market presents interesting developments (see Figure 1). The number of people employed in the South African agricultural sector increased from 802 000 in the 1910s to a peak of 1 665 000 in the 1960s. Afterwards, it decreased to an average of 750 000 in the 2010s. These numbers account for both seasonal and permanent labour.Also worth noting is that agriculture’s share of total employment has declined significantly over the past 77 years (see Figure 2). Back in the 1940s, the agricultural sector used to be one of the leading employers, with an average share of 42% in total employment. This, however, has changed over the years due to the introduction of new technologies in the sector, as well as growth and expansion in labour participation in other sectors of the economy. Between the 1940s and 2010s, the agricultural labour share in total employment declined 21-fold to 5%.
The aspirations of the South African government are to change the trend of the declining job market by creating an additional half a million jobs next year. Given the developments in Figure 1 and 2, this job creation target is an amazing, and by “amazing” I mean impossible, target to reach.