Agriculture job creation questioned

The most recent quarterly labour force survey conducted by Stats SA shows that employment in agriculture increased by 8,8% over the past year.

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This figure tallies with the agriculture department’s fourth quarter performance report for 2011/2012 and with employment statistics quoted by agriculture minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, in her budget speech. But industry players and members of the parliamentary oversight committee for agriculture question the accuracy of these figures.

According to Stats SA, employment in agriculture increased from 603 000 in the first quarter of 2011 to 656 000 in the first quarter of 2012. The minister referred to this upward trend in her budget speech, saying: “Food processing and agro-industries have provided jobs, demonstrating growth of over 25 000 agricultural jobs in the sector for the third quarter of 2011.”

As noted, these figures correspond with those supplied by Stats SA in the third quarter labour force survey for 2011, but the minister erred in claiming these jobs had been created in the “food processing and agro-industries”. Farmer’s Weekly spoke to Stats SA’s executive manager for household labour market studies, Peter Buwembo, who explained that ‘jobs in agriculture’ only include jobs created in the primary agriculture, hunting, fishing and forestry sectors. “Food processing or agro-processing falls under manufacturing,” he said.

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Furthermore, the minister referred to these employment figures in her budget speech to prove that there was confidence in the agriculture sector, but Stellenbosch University economics professor Servaas van der Berg believes she was probably wrong to make too much of these stats. He told Farmer’s Weekly that, while Stats SA generates data that is of fairly good quality and generally quite accurate, the figures quoted are fairly small increases in the context of a survey of this nature (almost 30 000 households). “One cannot read too much into small changes and changes that are not continued into the next periods,” he said.

Casting an even greater shadow over the perceived strong growth in employment, Anton Rabe, chairperson of Agri SA’s labour committee, said he believes it’s highly unlikely the sector created a large number of jobs during the past year, especially when you consider that confidence in the local agribusiness sector was on a downward spiral prior to the first quarter of 2012.

The agriculture department’s own employment statistics came under fire when director-general Langa Zita presented the fourth quarter performance report to parliament’s Portfolio Committee for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. According to the report, 4 162 jobs were created through the Ilima/Letsema project in the fourth quarter, of which 1 896 were permanent, 3 172 jobs were created through CASP (post-settlement support), of which 824 were permanent, and 9 018 smallholder producers were “identified for support” during the fourth quarter.

Members of the committee were highly critical of these figures saying that they would like to see proof of what the department claims to have achieved. Committee member and DA MP Pieter van Dalen suggested these employment figures were being quoted out of context, and added that he found them “hard to swallow”.

Another member, ANC MP Salam Abram, said he doubted the reliability of the report, but added that he wouldn’t bother sending his queries. “I would like to know how you did this,” he said, referring to the large number of jobs supposedly created, “because something like this has never been achieved by the department before. “But I have stopped submitting questions because I have not received any response, not even an acknowledgment that you got my questions.”