After 84 000 job cuts were recorded in the first two quarters of 2017, South Africa’s agricultural sector saw a further 25 000 jobs lost in the third quarter. This puts the combined agricultural job cuts for the past three quarters of this year at 109 000. About 84% of the third quarter job losses were in the Western Cape, which reflects the impact of the continued drought on agricultural activity in the province. Unlike the past three years when the third quarter figures presented an uptick in agricultural employment, the sector continued to experience job losses this year due to reduced activity in field crops and the horticultural sector. This places South Africa’s agricultural labour force at 810 000 jobs. The most affected province is the Western Cape, although it remains the largest agricultural employer, with a share of 20%.

The Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, North West and Limpopo saw a notable reduction in employment of 5% quarter-on-quarter (q/q), 6% q/q and 2% q/q, 8% q/q and 4% q/q, respectively. Meanwhile, the Northern Cape, Gauteng and Mpumalanga saw job gains of 7% q/q, 29% q/q and 5% q/q, respectively.

In terms of sub-sector performance, the reduction in employment was in field crops and horticulture, livestock, mixed farming, and production of organic fertilizer. Other sub-sectors, such as game farming, forestry and aquaculture showed job gains. Total employment in the South African agricultural sector is 5%, down by 0.2 percentage points from the second quarter of the year.  This is still above the mining sector, and slightly below the transport industry.

Looking ahead

The persistent drought in the Western Cape remains a key risk that could potentially undermine the performance of the agricultural labour market. Although the summer crop-producing provinces could experience an increase in activity in the fourth quarter of this year, there is a limited chance of notable improvement in employment. Most summer crops are not labour intensive, particularly grains and oilseeds. – Agbiz

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