In the second quarter of 2023, about 894 000 people were employed in South Africa’s primary agriculture, up 1% q/q and 2% y/y. This is the highest farm employment level since the last quarter of 2016 and is well above the long-term agricultural employment of 780 000.

From a regional perspective, the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal were the significant drivers of this employment.

The robust production conditions of various field crops, forestry and aquaculture were behind the improvement in agricultural jobs in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the livestock industry saw modest improvement, which is unsurprising as the industry still deals with the tail-end effects of the rough period of foot-and-mouth disease and higher feed costs among the industry’s pressures. There was a notable decline also in the game industry and production of organic fertilizer facilities.

Overall, this notable improvement in employment in the second quarter is unsurprising as South Africa has a robust field crop and horticulture harvest following favourable rainfall.

At the start of the season, production was threatened by persistent load shedding. Still, the various interventions to ease the load-shedding burden on farmers, such as load curtailment, expansion of the diesel rebate to the food value chain, and most private sector investment in alternative energy sources, all supported the production conditions.

Hence, the 2022/23 maize harvest is estimated at 16,4 million, 6% higher than the 2021/22 season’s harvest and the second-largest harvest on record. Soybeans harvest could reach a record 2,8 million tonnes. South Africa’s sugar cane crop will likely increase by 3% to 18,5 million tonnes in 2023/24.

Other field crops and fruits also show prospects for decent harvest this season, which underpins these favourable jobs data. In the coming weeks, the focus will also be on the effectiveness of the recently announced Agro-Energy Fund and the application details.

The key challenges the sector faces are rising geopolitical tensions, deteriorating infrastructure, weakening municipalities, crime, and energy supply which all influence farm profitability and job prospects. The South African government, collectively with the private sector, should address these issues to support long-term in the sector.

El Nino’s forecast in the upcoming 2023/24 summer season is another aspect to keep an eye on, although we remain optimistic that it will have a mild impact on the sector and thus keep production at decent levels and, by extension, sustain decent employment.

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