Agriculture dips in Stats SA limelight

The Statistics SA earlier released the gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter of 2021, which increased at annualised rate of 4.6%. 

Surprisingly, agriculture did not feature dominantly as was before. In the manufacturing industries for example, there was positive growth but not mention was made about agriculture. 

“Five of the ten manufacturing divisions reported positive growth rates in the first quarter. The divisions that made the largest contributions to the increase were motor vehicles, parts and accessories and other transport equipment; and wood and wood products, paper, publishing and printing” 

This is the second time in a month of June, Stats SA has relegated the agricultural sector at the backfoot. First it was with the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the 2021 first quarter, which put the official unemployment rate at 32.6%. 

According to Stats SA, it said the largest employment decreases were observed in Private households (70 000), followed by the informal sector (19 000), and the Agricultural sector (18 000) in Q1: 2021. 

However, the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) contended that it was important to contextualise the economic performance of the agricultural sector.   

“As highlighted in our GDP quarterly brief, the sector had a remarkable growth year in 2020, expanding 13.1% in real terms. This is largely due to good weather conditions boosting overall production coupled with good prices in the field crop and horticulture industries as well as a recovery from drought conditions in the major horticultural growing areas” it said. 

BFAP was concerned with the accuracy of the stats collected as it had identified anomalies in terms of job trajectory. 

Agricultural employment per Province figure provided by Stats SA reported changes in agricultural employment across the different provinces, “which supports the argument that the survey methodology change is affecting employment trends.” 

For the Western Cape, the prime agricultural employment hub, the Stats SA QLFS suggested that the province had shed some 22 814 jobs in 2020, and another 56 005 jobs in the first quarter of 2021. 

“It goes without saying that such declines do not align well with reports from agricultural stakeholders closer to these economic activities” BFAP reported. 

Agriculture Business Chamber (AgBiz) Chief Economist Wandile Sihlobo said the agricultural jobs data was disappointing. 

“In the first quarter of 2021, South Africa’s agricultural jobs were down by 8% y/y, with 792 000 people employed. This is the lowest level since 2014, which was a drought year. But we are not in a drought season at the moment” he said.

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