South Africa: Horticulture boosts employment in agricultural sector
Expansion in most agricultural South African subsectors has been export-driven, particularly in the horticultural sector, which is labour-intensive. That means that expansion also brings about more jobs.
This somewhat compensated for the dwindling labour participation trend in other agricultural subsectors over the past few decades due to technology advancement and consolidation of farms. The gains in horticulture have largely been the reason South Africa’s agricultural jobs have been stable over the past decade, bringing the average number employed in the industry to 767,000 between 2008 and 2018.
Of late, a number of policymakers, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, have expressed a desire to see agriculture continuing to play a pivotal role in rural economic growth and job creation through increased production.
While boosting production is conceivable if the focus is not only on boosting productivity on active farms, but expands to areas that have under-utilised land – Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo, among others – there needs to be an equal effort in opening up new markets. This is something South Africa has done well over the past few years, but now we need to expand beyond the destinations where we currently participate.
To illustrate this point – in 2018, South Africa’s agricultural exports amounted to $10.6-billion, a record level. This was underpinned by increased exports of oranges, grapes, wine, maize, apples, wool, lemons, mandarins and pears, among other products. About two-thirds of these exports went to Africa and Europe.
Asia is also an important market for South Africa’s agricultural exports and accounted for a 25% export share in 2018. This is a region where South Africa can still push the button a bit more to expand its footprint.