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Seasonal farm worker jobs expected to be worst-hit by COVID-19 pandemic

Chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, Wandile Sihlobo, said that a harvest boom would usually mean more jobs for seasonal labourers. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic things have changed.

A farmworker on the job on the outskirts of Meyerton in the south of Johannesburg, Tuesday, 8 January 2013. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA.

CAPE TOWN - Despite a harvest boom, seasonal labourers in the agriculture sector may be among the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That's according to chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, Wandile Sihlobo.

He was addressing the Cape Town Press club in a virtual presentation on Wednesday.

The agriculture sector has, for the most part, weathered the COVID-19 storm but wine grape farmers, wine estates and tobacco farmers remain under pressure due to the banning of alcohol and tobacco sales.

Following a series of droughts, 2020 was to be the recovery year for the industry, with bumper grain and fruit harvests.

Chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, Wandile Sihlobo, said that a harvest boom would usually mean more jobs for seasonal labourers.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic things have changed.

"I think what ended up happening this year is hours of work having stretched but people not increasing the number of people that come into their farms - that's seasonal labour component - which is over a third of the agriculture sector."

Sihlobo estimates a 10% year-on-year recovery in agricultural GDP.

He said that it was too soon to put a figure to the number of job losses in the industry.

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