South Africa’s unemployment rate is expected to rise in the coming months as a result of Coronavirus pandemic and the government’s lockdown. Many companies continue to shut their doors, while some have retrenched employees to further add more woes on the country’s current high unemployment rate. The current employment rate sits at 29.1% with young people and a mostly blacks dominating the biggest chunk of that percentage.
While the consensus is that the current unemployment level is unacceptable, the big question has always been, what practical measures should be taken to curb the ever-increasing number of South Africans without jobs?
Agricultural economist, Wandile Sihlobo in his debut book titled Finding Common Ground, paints a positive picture on how South Africa’s agricultural economy can be an answer to the country’s unemployment crisis. Finding Common Ground is a selection of Sihlobo’s previously published articles on the two most important issues. Firstly, how the government’s sound policy on land reform can unlock job opportunities for many South Africans, especially the youth and women. Secondly, how South Africa’s agricultural sector can be a driver for economic development for many rural communities across the country.
The scribe thoroughly discusses the land reform conundrum in the opening parts of the book. The land question is a major factor to consider if South Africa’s agricultural economy will be a shining sector of economic inclusivity to all South Africans. Now, I need to admit that I am one of the young peoples who used to perceive the agricultural sector as a space for older and unskilled people. I can safely admit that Sihlobo has successfully managed to change my long-held negative perception throughout the pages of this book. I was quickly drawn to the chapters that focused on youth and women participation in the agricultural sector.
Many young people, especially blacks and Coloureds continue to still see agriculture as ‘unsexy profession’ for lack of better word. They will rather study popular courses in universities with full knowledge of limited opportunities provided by those professions, rather than pursuing agriculture as their profession of choice.
Now, while Sihlobo fully understands the negative perception of many young South Africans, he admits that the onus is on people in the agricultural sector to showcase economic opportunities that are available in the sector and that in return, will force many young people like me, to be able to find the sector as more viable career-choice to pursue like it was for him. What I liked also is how he fiercely calls for the inclusion of women in the sector, who continue to be marginalized in many agribusinesses boardrooms and farms.
This is a book that will make agriculture become a dominant day-to-day conversation not only to women and young people in South Africa, but also to policymakers, agribusinesses, and government leaders across the continent of Africa as a whole.
While all the players in the public and private sectors, and together with South Africans of all races have found a common ground on the need for land reform in the country, which gave name to the title of the book. It is President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration that needs to deal with the land expropriation matter with the urgency and carefulness it requires, in order to seize the opportunities in the sector, especially opportunities presented by cannabis.
In Finding Common Ground, Sihlobo has proven why he is a leading young voice in the agricultural sector. I fully recommend that President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, get themselves a copy of this book. There are lessons for both their administrations, lessons that can change the economic trajectory of their respective countries from an agricultural perspective.