South Africa is marred by the triple challenge of inequality, poverty and unemployment. As the country works to recover from the effects of the pandemic, the new Social Employment Fund Project aims to leverage a growth sector in the economy: agriculture.

A worker on Sungula Farm in South Africa transplants spinach

In 2021, unemployment in South Africa reached 34.4% with eight of 10 sectors experiencing negative economic growth due to Covid 19. Agriculture was one of the only sectors that proved resilient through the pandemic. Though agriculture remains a labor intensive sector, it has potential to drive economic recovery and job creation.

The sector grew by 13.1% in 2020 and continued to grow in 2021 closing the third quarter at 15%. The South African government has initiated the Social Employment Fund Project (SEF Project) to further strengthen the sector. Solidaridad is an implementing partner in the project managed by Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa.

The SEF Project operates at enterprise development level by increasing productivity and income within farm enterprises and fuel job creation that provides valuable work experience and increases food security.

Manager at Sungula Farms explains operations at the farm greenhouse.

The case for supporting local enterprise

Sungula Farm, a participating farm in the SEF Project, employs 33 workers through the project. This intervention has enabled them to expand their operation in ways they haven’t been able to since establishing the business 16 years ago. This puts the farm in a position where they can retain the employees hired after the SEF project concludes.

“The increased labor force has really taken our operation to another level. We have been able to grow our farm from 9 hectares to a 40 hectare operation,” said Farm Manager Thami Biyela. All workers employed through the project are paid minimum wage, but they also benefit from personal development. 

“Beyond the money, it has really helped with my mental health to wake up every morning with a plan for a productive day. The amount of knowledge one gains is also great,” said 26-year-old Keneilwe Lekker. “Prior to this opportunity I knew nothing about agriculture, the only thing I knew about tomatoes is how to eat them, now I can see how  it is possible for me to start my food garden at home”.

The SEF Project focuses on the potential of the horticulture (fruit and vegetables) value chain to create jobs. Over 1,110 jobs have been created in Gauteng, Eastern Cape and North West provinces, along with two soil testing labs in Gauteng and Eastern Cape that serve smallholder farmers. The programme provides services to 1,623 farmers (9 sites, 51 localities covering 3,141 hectares).

Learn more about the project on the IDC website.