Employment in agriculture in the Cape Winelands District Municipality. Data: Quantec (2012); own calculations.


My post on the Cape Winelands labour unrest generated huge interest from a wide spectrum of readers (a big thank you to everyone who retweeted on Twitter and shared on Facebook; I was even invited to write an Afrikaans version for the Sunday paper Rapport).

Meanwhile, I’ve found corroborating evidence for my supposition that higher wage demands and better technology will reduce the demand for labour on farms. The figure above shows agricultural employment numbers for the five local municipalities of the Cape Winelands District Municipality, the region where most of the unrest occurred. I must admit that I was surprised by the rapid decline since 1995: even while output has increased by 1.4% annually over the entire period (not shown), employment has fallen from more than 120 000 jobs to fewer than 50 000 today. The trends are similar across all municipalities meaning that wine farmers in the Stellenbosch region shed jobs as much as citrus farmers in the Witzenberg region. This is, of course, a story of productivity growth: more output with fewer inputs, probably caused by the need to compete in lucrative export markets. But it is an unhappy outcome for farm workers, who’ve seen their job opportunities in the industry collapse.

My prediction remains unchanged: Higher wage demands will only accelerate the decline of employment on Western Cape farms.