A Few Notes on South Africa’s Agricultural Jobs Market

The agricultural sector continues to be seen as a sector that could potentially absorb masses of unemployed South Africans, particularly the low skilled and rural labour force. In fact, the National Development Plan notes that the sector has a potential to create an additional million jobs by 2030 if conditions highlighted in a document are met (read Chapter 6 of NDP).

Without saying much about the feasibility of that, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on this chart (featured image) – illustrating a long-term trend of the South African agricultural labour force.

The number of people employed in the South African agricultural sector increased from 802 000 in the 1910s to a peak of 1.7 million 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 in total employment has declined significantly over the past 77 years. Such trend is unsurprising – as economies develop, the share of people working in agriculture declines.

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%.


Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail: wandile@agbiz.co.za

Author: Wandile Sihlobo

Wandile Sihlobo is an agricultural economist and head of agribusiness research at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) in South Africa. He is a columnist for Business Day and Farmers Weekly magazine. Sihlobo is a member of the South African Agricultural Economics Association. He has previously served as an economist at Grain South Africa. He holds a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from Stellenbosch University.

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