My aim in this particular blog post is to share a note we (Agbiz) published earlier today commenting on the recently released Quarterly Labour Force Survey data for the second quarter of 2021. At the end of the post, we provide a brief view on the agricultural economic growth prospects for 2021, following a solid performance of 13,1% y/y in 2020.

South Africa’s agricultural jobs rebounded in the second quarter of 2021

After falling to the lowest levels since 2014 in the first quarter of this year, South Africa’s agricultural employment rebounded in the second quarter to 862 000 (up 8% year on year).[1] This is unsurprising because of bumper harvests on field crops and horticulture this season.

Moreover, the second quarter of each year is a period of higher activity in most agricultural industries, with harvesting underway, which requires increased labour. Notably, the scenario of higher agricultural commodity prices in a year of large harvests also boosted farmers’ incomes and, therefore, could retain and increase employment, even if seasonal.

From a regional perspective, except for the Western Cape and Mpumalanga, agricultural employment increased in the second quarter of 2021 compared with the corresponding period in 2020. Again, this can be explained by the need for more labour during a harvest period of a bumper crop.

The decline in employment in the Western Cape can be explained by the fact that the province’ wine and wine grape industry was hard hit by the lockdown regulations at various intervals in 2020 and this year. While the second quarter of this year’s 185 000 jobs in the Western Cape is not at its lowest compared to the first quarter’s 136 000, it is still well below the five-year average of 209 000 jobs.

For Mpumalanga, it is unclear what might have led to an 11% y/y decline in agricultural employment. The province had a vibrant field crop and horticulture season, both of which are generally labour-intensive. Perhaps the decline in forestry and game industry jobs might explain the province’s farm labour dynamics.

Overall, the employment data 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. We will continue to monitor the data.

Fundamentally, the agricultural economy is on a solid footing for a second consecutive year. In 2020, the sector’s gross value added expanded by 13,1% y/y. This year will likely also be another year of good performance, with the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) forecasting a 7% y/y growth.

[1] The Quarterly Quarterly Labour Force Survey data are available here.

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