OBAL IN­SIGHT : Where will fu­ture agri­cul­tural jobs come from?

Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - Contents - GLOBAL IN SIGHT by Dr Ti­nash e Ka­puya Dr Ti­nashe Ka­puya is an agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist. Email him at tinasheka­[email protected]

The role of agri­cul­ture and agro­pro­cess­ing in cre­at­ing one mil­lion jobs over the next 20 to 30 years can be in­formed by sev­eral in­sights

I have gained in re­cent months.

The first task is to imag­ine how the labour mar­ket might look in 10 to 15 years’ time, us­ing cur­rent trends and per­spec­tives as a ref­er­ence point. Of course, those con­di­tions may not be re­alised, given the pace and in­ten­sity of mar­ket changes that are con­stantly shift­ing un­der the weight of po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic forces.

My view is that the South African agri­cul­tural labour mar­ket in par­tic­u­lar, and the agro-pro­cess­ing in­dus­try in gen­eral, will be shaped and in­flu­enced by the forces of the Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion in a fun­da­men­tal way. Agri­cul­ture and agro-pro­cess­ing are al­ready un­der­go­ing deep and in­tense changes that are linked to ad­vance­ments in biotech­nol­ogy, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, big data an­a­lyt­ics, e-com­merce, mo­bile com­put­ing, and more.

The 2030 sce­nario

I en­vi­sion a 2030 sce­nario in which the agri­cul­tural and agro-pro­cess­ing labour force be­comes a par­tic­u­larly skilled work­force that re­quires spe­cialised pro­fi­cien­cies. The agro-food sec­tor is al­ready mor­ph­ing into a so­phis­ti­cated set of in­tri­cate sup­ply chains that not only de­mand a unique and spe­cialised skills set, but a more tech­ni­cally as­tute one. In this sce­nario, the food sec­tor em­ploys fewer, but skilled, work­ers on the one hand, and even fewer semi- to un­skilled work­ers, re­sult­ing in a struc­tured, het­eroge­nous and in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary work­force.

The im­pli­ca­tion is that food is pro­duced more ef­fi­ciently, and be­comes much cheaper than ever be­fore, with far more be­ing pro­duced on much less land and with less wa­ter. I pre­dict a highly pro­duc­tive work­force, which is go­ing to pro­duce more out­put and value per hectare. In this re­gard, higher min­i­mum wages will re­sult in some com­mer­cial farm­ing en­ter­prises hir­ing fewer labour­ers, and adopt­ing more ef­fi­cient and cost-ef­fec­tive tech­nolo­gies.

The up­side will be matched by an equally chal­leng­ing down­side. Agri­cul­ture and agro-pro­cess­ing will cease to be the sec­tors that read­ily ab­sorb un­skilled labour as pol­icy an­a­lysts have long as­sumed. In this sce­nario, the labour mar­ket will con­tinue to de­cline over time, although at a rel­a­tively less dras­tic pace than over the past 50 to 60 years.

The ser­vices sec­tor as job cre­ator

So, where will the bulk of un­em­ployed youth find jobs? The answer lies in the high-value ‘ser­vices’ sec­tor, rang­ing from lo­gis­tics to agri-fi­nan­cial ser­vices, as well as train­ing and reskilling ser­vices for a labour mar­ket that has to con­tin­u­ally adapt to chang­ing tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments. The re­newed focus on ser­vice-driven agri­cul­tural en­ter­prises will re­quire high lev­els of ex­per­tise and knowl­edge, driven by the same Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion tenets.

The agri-ser­vices space has been evolv­ing and ex­pand­ing with a grow­ing em­pha­sis on, and promi­nence in, con­sumerism, sup­ply chain ef­fi­cien­cies and value chain in­te­gra­tion, among oth­ers. The as­sump­tion un­der­pin­ning this view is that the sec­tor it­self, and the labour it re­quires to drive its growth, will be much more com­plex in the fu­ture than the ini­tial as­sump­tions that shaped the cur­rent pol­icy de­bate on job cre­ation.

So what does this all mean for job cre­ation in the 2030 sce­nario? Firstly, one can rea­son­ably con­clude that if this sce­nario plays out, one mil­lion jobs in agri­cul­ture can only be cre­ated with a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in ‘skilling’ the labour force to make it rel­e­vant to the evolv­ing agritech­nol­ogy trends in agri­cul­ture. Such skilling shouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be based on ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, but tech­ni­cal train­ing that is in­dus­try-de­mand driven.

Se­condly, South Africa re­quires a quan­tum leap in re­search and de­vel­op­ment to match the in­vest­ment of some de­vel­oped na­tions that are pro­duc­ing cut­tingedge tech­nolo­gies that are shap­ing global agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.

Thirdly, the pre­dom­i­nant focus on agro-pro­cess­ing must now be matched with a con­certed focus on agri-ser­vices, which are tai­lor-made and de­signed to sup­port small­holder agri­cul­ture.

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