A giant step in agriculture statistics

A giant step in agriculture statistics


On 05 August 2013, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) published an ‘Agricultural households’ report which is based on Population Census 2011 (Census 2011). This report covers all types of agriculture, namely subsistence, smallholder and commercial. This is an important milestone since as a country, we are taking the first step to better understand and inform the public on the subsistence and smallholder agriculture.

The report follows in the decision to include the following three questions related to agriculture in the Census 2011 questionnaire, namely:

  • What kind of agricultural activity is the household involved in?
  • How many of the following (livestock) does the household own?
  • Where does this household operate its agricultural activities?

Although the agriculture industry contributes only 2,2% to the country gross domestic product (GDP), its contribution to employment at 5,2% contradicts this position. The agricultural households’ data will be mostly used to better understand issues of poverty, food security, green economy and environmental sustainability.

The information from Census 2011 will also complement Stats SA’s current tax-based register to develop a complete list of all agricultural activities in the country in line with recommendations of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture and Organisation (FAO). This list will be used to conduct further in-depth surveys related to agriculture.

Households (and people) in agriculture

Census 2011 results show that 2,9 million households (20%) were involved in agriculture. Nationally, the largest percentage of agricultural households was located in Kwazulu-Natal (25%), Eastern Cape (21%) and Limpopo (16%). However, Western Cape (3%) and Northern Cape (2%) had the least percentage of agricultural households.

The highest proportion of agricultural households within provinces was also recorded by Eastern Cape (35%), Limpopo (33%) and Kwazulu-Natal (28%). Western Cape and Gauteng recorded the lowest participation of 5% and 7%, respectively.

Using the ‘head of household’ as a proxy for involvement in agriculture, the report indicates that people involved in agriculture are likely to have higher levels of ‘no schooling’ (23%) as compared to national levels of 8,6%. Also, 30% of the people in agriculture had ‘no income’. Similarly, for both male (12%) and female (11%) headed agricultural households the mostly likely age group to be in agriculture was from 45 to 54 years.

Households in agriculture also tend to have limited access to basic services compared to the rest of the population. This is illustrated by the fact that whereas 60% of the population has access to a ‘flush toilet’, for agricultural households only 29% had access to flush toilets. Similarly, 74% of households in general use electricity compared with 55% for agricultural households.

Activities of agricultural households

Eastern Cape (30%) and Kwazulu-Natal (25%) had the highest percentages of agriculture households in livestock production. Kwazulu-Natal and Eastern Cape also dominate in poultry (28% and 26%) and vegetable production (30% and 22%), respectively. Limpopo (25%) had the highest percentage in the production of other crops (excluding vegetables). Gauteng (29%) dominated in vegetable production, in all likelihood due to significant backyard gardening.

The highest percentage of agricultural households that owned ‘one to ten’ heads of cattle were in Eastern Cape (36%) and Kwazulu-Natal (28%). However, North West (18%), Free State (17%) and Eastern Cape (16%) recorded the highest percentage of agriculture households that owned ‘more than 100’ heads of cattle. Similar patterns are displayed for sheep and goats ownership, with Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal dominating.

Rural provinces such as the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga had the most proportions (number) of households keeping ‘one to ten’ heads of cattle at 86%, 81%, 76% and 74%, respectively. These four provinces also displayed a high number of agricultural households owning one to ten goats and pigs.

Across all provinces, most agricultural households (80% and above) own ‘one to 100’ of various livestock. This indicates that most agricultural households are involved in subsistence and smallholder farming. Subsistence farming is mostly for consumption by own households whereas smallholder is for both own consumption and the market.

Western Cape displayed higher proportions of agricultural households owning ‘more than one hundred’ cattle (21%), sheep (46%) and goats (19%). This could be an indication that most agriculture households in the Western Cape are in commercial agriculture. Commercial farming is mainly for the market.

In summary, agricultural households are mainly involved in subsistence and smallholder farming and are mostly found in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Limpopo and Northern Cape which are generally regarded as rural provinces. These households have limited access to basic services such as water and electricity. A significant number of people in agriculture have no schooling and no income, and their ages are from 45 to 54 years.

Government intervention should focus on developing general agriculture skills, facilitating access to markets and providing funding targeting especially agriculture households in rural provinces.

Publication: Report-03-11-01 – Census 2011: Agricultural households