Agricultural Employment Scenarios

by ALIBER, M., BAIPHETI, M. & JACOBS, P., 2009
Another Countryside? Policy Options for Land and Agrarian Reform in South Africa, Chapter 6, Ed. Ruth Hall, PLAAS, School of Government, University of Western Cape, April 2009

Agriculture is often held up as a sector in which much employment can be created. However, employment on commercial farms in South Africa has been in long-term decline. SA’s high unemployment rates draw us to question if this trend can be halted, or better, reversed. Another question is whether there are alternative ways in which agriculture can be harnessed for the national good, with the two obvious candidates being redistributive land reform on the one hand and agricultural development within the former homelands on the other. However, the former is proceeding slowly and performing poorly, and the latter is scarcely happening at all. This chapter seeks to re-examine the potential of agriculture to contribute to job creation and poverty reduction in South Africa. It does so mainly through simple spreadsheet-based ‘scenario analysis’ that seeks to illustrate what is conceivable, complemented by commentary as to what is feasible and likely. It is a re-examination in the sense that there have been various earlier attempts to do much the same, but on a more piecemeal basis. The difference between this and earlier efforts is mainly one of time – this exercise has the advantage of looking back over 10 years of post-apartheid agricultural and land policy, which has somewhat informed our understanding of current trends of what is possible and the constraints we face. The current exercise is also, however, different in terms of operating at an aggregate level rather than in terms of an empirical case study. This is an advantage as well as a weakness. The advantage is that the question of agriculture’s contribution to jobs, livelihoods and poverty reduction is very much a national one, and can best be appreciated by considering it in this fashion. Further research could strengthen this exercise by assessing market demand conditions, quantifying second-order effects, placing a clear cost on the different possible policies, capturing important local differences and taking care to examine resource constraints critically.