Young YOU| Learning about farming in SA

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Because South Africa’s rainfall isn’t regular in large parts of the country, many farmers are forced to access groundwater using boreholes and wind pumps. (Photo: GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES)
Because South Africa’s rainfall isn’t regular in large parts of the country, many farmers are forced to access groundwater using boreholes and wind pumps. (Photo: GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES)

Agriculture is enormously important in South Africa. Our farmers producer a large portion of the country’s export products and contribute greatly to the local economy, especially as a source of employment. But due to water constraints and a shortage of suitable land, agriculture as an industry can be quite unpredictable. Just more than 10% of South Africa’s surface area is used for agriculture and the country is prone to long droughts. Yet SA’s diverse climate areas – from subtropical to Mediterranean to arid – mean a large variety of agricultural products can be produced here.

In 2020, about 865 000 people worked in SA’s agriculture sector. Agriculture’s contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) is about 2,5%. The GDP is how we measure the strength of a country’s economy. It’s based on the total value of goods produced and services delivered in a financial year. It might look as if agriculture’s contribution to the GDP is small, but you must remember that agricultural products tie into secondary industries such as packaging and processing in factories, as well as into tertiary industries such as transport, shops and restaurants – after all, agriculture produces our food.

Apart from the 40 000 or so commercial farmers in the country, SA is also home to many subsistence farmers. Commercial farming is the production of harvests and animal products with the aim of selling it. This type of farming usually incorporates modern technology such as irrigation systems, tractors and combine harvesters. By contrast, subsistence farming is producing just enough of little more than is needed to live off, without the goal of selling the products. About three-quarters of South Africans engage in subsistence farming, while only 2% are commercial farmers.

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