South African agriculture had a “remarkable year” last year, the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Production (BFAP) has reported. This was despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused all other sectors of the South African economy (except government services) to contract. While the national economy as a whole experienced its greatest contraction since at least 1946, amounting to a decline of 7% in gross domestic product (GDP), the agriculture sector experienced an annualised real GDP growth rate of 13.1%. As agriculture had suffered from a decline during 2018 and 2019 (as it had during 2015 and 2016), as a result of drought and animal diseases, a degree of recovery in the sector had been expected for last year.
The BFAP’s modelling framework proved very valuable in handling the economic volatility and exogenous economic shocks experienced during 2020. Halfway through the year the Bureau was able to forecast that the country’s agriculture sector could grow by 13% – which proved to be almost exactly right – based on fundamental agricultural supply and demand drivers.
Total agriculture sector income rose by 7.3% last year. The biggest single driver for this increase was the maize sector, whose income increased by 2.8%. This was followed by the eggs sector, with 1.3% and then by the citrus sector, with 0.9%. The other agriculture sectors which saw their incomes increase last year (in order from greater to the least increases) were wheat, poultry meat, deciduous fruit, sunflower seed, barley, groundnuts, viticulture, soya beans, ostrich products, canola, other livestock, pigs, mohair, dried fruit, oats and sorghum.
However, some sectors within agriculture did experience contraction last year. From the least to the greatest decline, these were tobacco, cattle, milk, hay, vegetables, flowers, sugar cane, cotton and subtropical fruit. These sectors – notably cattle, flowers and tobacco – were directly affected by anti-Covid-19 regulations or by weak demand caused by the effects of the pandemic.
In terms of production volumes, good weather meant that field crops increased by 21% and citrus production rose by 14%. “[The year] 2020 was a good year for the citrus industry with the weak exchange rate and high demand as a result of Covid-19,” stated the BFAP in its report. “In the case of citrus, the sector overcame many logistical challenges to export record levels, despite lockdown restrictions.” A number of small sectors also saw large production increases last year, these being oats, groundnuts, ostrich products, canola, mohair and barley.
Turning to the fourth quarter of last year (4Q20), this saw, in terms of the national economy as a whole, a seasonally adjusted and annualised increase in GDP of 6.3%. During the third quarter, the increase had been 67.3%, as the economy rebounded with the relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions, which had wrought havoc on the economy.
Regarding agriculture, 4Q20 was the fifth quarter in a row which grew in year-on-year terms. It was also the fourth consecutive quarter which recorded growth in quarter-on-quarter terms. Quarter-on-quarter, 4Q20 recorded a GDP growth rate of 6%; year-on-year, the figure was 21%.
For purposes of analysis, the BFAP divided agriculture into three subsectors, namely animal products, field crops and horticulture. All three displayed real growth. The gross production value (GPV) from animal products rose by 1.6% year-on-year, while the equivalent figure for horticulture was 0.4% and that for field crops 27.7%.
The main contributors to the growth in animal products GPV were eggs, pigs and goats.
The horticulture subsector was hit by weak demand for the flower sector, which recorded an income that was 17% down, year-on-year. For deciduous and other fruits, income was up by a real 3%. Vegetable sales were pretty much the same, year-on-year.
Field crops were the biggest driver in the sector’s growth during 4Q20. “The winter grains and oilseed harvest were the main reason for this strong performance, with record harvests for wheat, barley and canola in the Western Cape,” reported the BFAP. For wheat, the year-on-year increase in GPV was 37%, for barley it was 68% and for canola it was 74%. Wheat production deliveries in 4Q20 increased by 33% and prices by 13%, year-on-year.