The Future of Farm Workers in South Africa – National Conference

Dates: October 16, 2019 - October 18, 2019
Venue: University of the Western Cape

16 - 18 October 2019, University of the Western Cape

The National Conference on The Future of Farm Workers in South Africa, takes place from 16–18 October 2019, at the University of the Western Cape.

Farm workers are an integral component of the economy and the food system in South Africa. Yet they are invariably poor, food insecure, marginalised and vulnerable to exploitation. Pro-farm worker legislation since 1994 has provided some protection, but it has also been associated with violations of labour rights and an accelerating pace of evictions and casualisation. Moreover, because agricultural employment is concentrated at specific times of year, seasonal farm workers face an under-reported crisis of underemployment and seasonal hunger. The future is uncertain, and the issues facing farm workers vary from place to place. Even within South Africa, farm workers in the Cape winelands experience very different challenges to farm workers in Limpopo. But there are also opportunities. The farm workers’ strike of 2012–13 revealed the power of organised protest, while the current discourse around Land Expropriation Without Compensation (LEWC) gives hope that (women) farm workers will finally enjoy access to land and tenure security.


The conference takes a South Africa-wide perspective, and will highlight the centrality of farm workers in the national economy and food system, at a moment when academic and policy attention is focused on other actors such as farmers (commercialisation of smallholders), markets (‘supermarketisation’ and big food), and consumers (food safety, obesogenic diets).

A second fundamental objective is to deepen the understanding and contribute to policy debates about issues facing farm workers in South Africa, drawing on research and policy analysis but also on the perspectives of farm workers themselves. Ideally, the diversity of experiences across the country will be reflected in contributions by participants from different provinces.

Also, since this conference is hosted by the NRF–Newton Fund SA-UK Research Chair in ‘Social Protection for Food Security’, a specific objective is to identify innovative ideas for social protection to address seasonal hunger among South African farm workers.


Abstracts or ideas for panels can be submitted on any topic relevant to farmworkers in South Africa. Abstracts and panels are particularly welcome on the following themes:

  1. Farm worker rights: Minimum wage policies and labour rights in commercial agriculture.
  2. Farm worker resistance: The aftermath of the 2012/13 farm worker strike in the Western Cape.
  3. Labour force trends: Is farm labour becoming more feminisedand mechanised? Do young people have (or want) a future as farm workers in contexts of high youth unemployment?
  4. Agrarian transformations: What does the trend towards a casualisedlabour force mean in a neoliberal economy? What livelihood options do farm workers face after they are evicted?
  5. Land debate: How to ensure farm workers’ access to land, especially farm women?
  6. Migration: Implications for local farm workers of internal and international labour migration.
  7. Food insecurity: Seasonality, malnutrition and hunger among farm workers.
  8. Social protection: What innovations are possible – e.g. seasonal unemployment insurance?


Abstract submission deadline: 31 JULY 2019
Author notification deadline: 9 SEPTEMBER 2019
Author registration deadline: 1 OCTOBER 2019


The conference is jointly hosted by the SA/UK Bilateral Research Chair in Social Protection for Food Security; the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security and the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, in association with Women on Farms Project and the Institute for Social Development at UWC.


Participation in the conference is free. No registration fees are applicable. This conference is supported by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant Number: 98411), and the Newton Fund, administered by the British Council.


Send enquiries to: foodsecurity@uwc.ac.za

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We recognise that producers, processors, distributors and consumers are incorporated into the food system under varying terms and returns. We also recognise the economic, social, human and environmental health impacts associated with food security. Therefore our goal is to conduct research, build capacity and disseminate findings that will promote a sustainable food system in South Africa.


Our research is concerned with the scale, nature, causes and consequences of food insecurity in South Africa and elsewhere on the African continent. Thus our mission is to investigate products, technologies, processes and policies that can reduce food insecurity and mitigate its negative outcomes. We seek to make a difference to food security by linking innovative science with critical enquiry.