Statistics South Africa’s September 2007 Labour Force Survey shows that employment in the local, formal agricultural sector had increased year on year since late 2005, but also found that since 2001 overall employment figures in the sector had declined. Kobus Kleynhans, Agri SA’s labour and training portfolio director, said his organisation has seen a gradual decline in employment figures in formal South African agriculture since as far back as the 1970s, when the sector employed about 2 million farmworkers.
According to Statistics SA’s latest labour force survey, “In September 2007, of the 1,2 million workers employed in agriculture, 816 000 were in the formal sector, while 343 000 were employed in the informal agricultural sector.
The growth in agricultural employment up to September 2007 was due to robust employment growth in formal sector agriculture, which increased employment by 210 000 workers since 2006. However, most of that number was offset by a decline of 130 000 employed in the informal agriculture sector, down from the previous year. employment in the informal sector tends to be less stable than agricultural employment in the formal sector.
According to Kleynhans, a number of factors contribute to declining employment figures in the formal agricultural sector, including the growing trend towards mechanisation of farming activities. “At one stage farmers often employed more staff than they actually needed, but with the increasing financial pressure farmers have reduced their expenditure, including farm-labour outlay,” said Kleynhans.
He added that farmers were using mechanisation to make harvesting faster and more efficient to meet the demands of markets, especially in the export sector. It’s also reported that in some parts of SA people simply aren’t interested in working in agriculture and so farmers were having to employ foreign nationals as seasonal workers.
John Purchase, CEO of the Agricultural Business Chamber, stressed there was also a decline in the number of farmers in the formal agricultural sector. He added that this was a sign of the challenges posed by competition in the global market that required local farmers to become more efficient.
“This trend here is indicative of what’s happening in agriculture all over the world,” said Dr Purchase. “Farmers now need to produce more using less, and this is what makes it so difficult to get small-scale farmers to remain sustainable. They simply can’t benefit from the economies of scale that the remaining commercial-scale farmers can.”
“It is a concern that South African agriculture isn’t growing anymore; it’s like we’re treading water. Resources must be invested in ways that keep our agricultural sector growing.” – Lloyd Phillips