Is Agriculture a panacea to unemployment in S.A?

It is quite interesting how often we hear the the political office-bearers speak of agriculture as one of the key sectors to absorb some of the huge numbers of unemployed people in the country. Are their utterances prompted by facts or just wishful thinking? Is our Agricultural sector, vibrant and sound enough to be a stepping stone or ladder to the Utopian land of milk and honey, envisaged by our leaders? Practically, how do we deal with the scourge of unemployment?

The agricultural sector, can be divided into three esgments, Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Production. All three segments will obviously require labour, though at various educational, training levels in terms of skills required to perform duties at particular production level. So what is the problem really? Lack of job opportunies? Lack of work ethics? Lack of relevant skill to ever-changing state-of -the-art technologies introduced day in, day  out? Lack of political will and patriotism, from the State and private sector?

At the heart of the matter, namely unemployment, the first question is: are job opprtunities plenty or lacking for that matter? I for one, am under impression that as long as man lives, there will always be jobs. That shouldn’t sound so sarcastic though, if not utopian dream. The fact of the matter is technology is developing at such high speed and at the same time it is being implemented  so vigorously. In Agriculture, particularly technology has seen the use of tunnels and contorlled environment to produce delicate vegetables and horticultural crops and the machineries being used lately, are of some of the best, most innovative technologies that require the operators to be technically advanced too, so to speak. So the question is, then how do people in rural farming areas, get relevant work in such technologically demanding sector? The fact of the matter is, rural schools are not having relevant academic curriculum to produce technological, technical, oriented students, and the ill-disciplined, current crop of teachers’ lack of political will and vision further deepen the limbo of strife. Without mincing words, our education system is absolutey in shambles, it can best be described as “garbage in, garbage out” kind of scenario. In agriculture, for instance there is no more time for hand hoeing if truth be told, given the advancement of biotechnology in the form of genetically modified organisms (GMO) for that matter, because this technology allows the use of chemical control (herbicide-synthetic chemical substance  designed to kill unwanted/plants or weeds)  without demaging the field crop. This is achieved technologically and scientifically by introducing new gene(s), into specific plants, to equip them to resist particular challenges and be able to produce thereof. So the technologically advanced equipment or products, call for technologically advanced brains to operate them, therefore what matters is not the person, but what he knows  and can do thereof in the relevant  job market.

Secondly, not everybody amongst  ourselves will manage  to be paper-pushers, desk-jockeys in corporate world. This calls for a pragmatic approach towards our secondary education subject-packages. South Africa, can hardly afford to have very academic high school streams, yet the job market demands technical skills in bricklaying, plumbing, motor mechanics, carpentry,spray-painting,boiler-making etc. This skew trend is further highlighted by our tertiary institutes where more than fifty percent (50%) or more, of graduates are in possession of qualifications in general studies, and such people are not in demand, thus add to the pool of unskilled, illiterate,unemployed people. South Africa needs sound, solid, modern, relevant secondary education, to produce competent,technical, ready-to-work men and women, and failure to do so will add further woes and ills to our society.  Given the current environment with politically-charged teachers, it leaves much to be desired indeed, in society where it is a norm to waste  precious time blindly over labour issues, instead of focusing on educational core issues. Among the 25% of unemployed people, some of them are school leavers, basically ill-equipped technically to play just basic role in our economy.  The youth form part of the unemployed and are inclined to have affinity for top end fashion brands, that on its own will make agricultural work unappealing to most of South African youth. Coupled with our poor work ethics, they are unlikely to make it in that sector. Moreover, our cheap politics, that tends to sensationalize issues, has promoted freebies or an entitlement mindset amongst the people of South Africa, where hardwork, dedication, discipline etc are not part of the living formula. For example, on the issue of discipline and decency, there are some male characters in our society who can urinate anywhere, anyhow in public domain, who have no qualms whatsover with regards to such public indecency.

Agriculture is a highly scientific and technological  field from a business perspective, whereby the latest innovations are applied so meticulously. Yet amongst politicians and ordinary people they still view it as just a spade and fork kind of a thing, of which is not at all. Therefore, knowledgeable people are needed. However, on the contrary, the unskilled labour force is abundant, of which some  are absorbed in labour-intensive expanded public works programme temporarily. But an effective, efficient, pragmatic  model is urgently needed to be implemented to ensure that in the long run South Africa will have highly skilled people, since the model of labour intensive expanded public works programme is shortlived, thus being a short term solution, to our multi-layered problem. The global trends of development have vividly depicted that strong,vibrant economies are built upon sound, pragmatic, technical education systems that are in sync with current demands of the market, as well as science and technology advancement. The root cause of our rising unemployment rate, squarely centres around our dysfunctional education system and its lot. It is further worsened by lack of dedication, discipline and work ethics from our teachers and administrators alike. The poor education system is directly correlated to the current high unemployment rate of the unskilled, sometimes illiterate people. From bantu education to the current model, we’ve seen systems that do not respond to job market needs. The current job market globally, is knowledge-based and raw materials and labour are secondary issues though. The clarion call is therefore that the education system must  produce innovative, skilful people so to be relevant in the job market. It is said “if education is expensive, try ignorance”. Sadly, where ignorance is rife, all in in shambles.

In the modern times, where what matters is brain power instead of physical strength of man, there is reason to review our strategies for better. True power lies in quality, than quantity.  The labour can be available in numbers, but if they are not quality personnel in the sense of being well-trained, educated, competently skilled personnel to produce quality products, then being in big numbers won’t secure them any job opportunities. Unfortunately, agriculture can hardly dent the 25% unemployment rate, even absorbing 5% of it thereof. So far, agriculture is mechanizing heavily, adopting innovative, modern, advanced, biotechnological methods and products. So this is done, solely driven by economic motive, to maximaze profits, yet minimizing production costs by all means possible. In any case, agriculture is business and to remain afloat it calls for fluid mindset all the time, just like in all other businesses. The modern times are so advanced, being driven by Science and Technology per se, thus the key challenge to any man,woman is to be up to par with times or else one will be “dinasaur” of modern times.

Profile photo of Sithembiso Mahlaba

Sithembiso Mahlaba

An agriculturist by profession, blogger by passion, prominent opinion-maker without favour or fear.

One thought on “Is Agriculture a panacea to unemployment in S.A?

  • January 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Interesting take on the question of ustilising the agricultural sector to absorb unemployment. However an angle that you may not have considered is how the agricultural sector can absorb unemployed youth through land redistribution initiatives.
    I think that there are real prospects of success for a policy that sees unemployed people grouped into well-funded co-operatives and allocated a piece of land to farm productively. This will move us away from the “farm-labourer” mentality and more towards entrepreneurship in Agriculture.
    Such a policy will allow the agricultural sector to play a more meaningful role in reducing unemployment whilst effectively facilitating land redistribution in a productive way.


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