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Labor market and the pandemic: agribusiness' resilience through crisis

The Brazilian agribusiness has shown again its resilience in 2020, with good results in a moment of economic downturn because of covid-19 impacts. The health crisis has reinforced the fragility of the agribusiness labor market and intensified trends observed before the pandemic. However, the sector has shown recovery signs for the employed population (EP) from the third quarter of the year on, due to the return of economic activities and the continuity of the good performance. Therefore, positive results can be expected for the agribusiness labor market in 2021.


Last year, while the Brazilian GDP decreased 4.1%, the Brazilian agribusiness GDP (calculated by Cepea/CNA – using the real income perspective) rose by 24.31%, a record, with a 26.6% participation in the Brazilian GDP. This fact highlights that the agribusiness was able to contribute significantly to the Brazilian economy in several aspects, even during the pandemic.


In mid-April 2020, Cepea researchers were expecting different impacts of the pandemic on the GDP and on the labor market, since the segments that have a higher weight on the agribusiness GDP are not the most relevant regarding generating income and jobs.


With the first available data for 2020, there were still difficulties to measure the effects of covid-19 on the Brazilian labor market. In the first quarter of the year, the employed population (EP) in agribusiness was 17.97 million people, 0.53% less compared to the same period of 2019 and 1.55% below that in the previous quarter. Despite the downward trend for the number of people employed in the sector, this result was mainly affected by the primary segment.


In the second quarter, the EP in agribusiness totaled 16.73 million people, 8.9% lower than in the same period of 2019 and a decrease of 6.91% in relation to the previous quarter. Considering the labor market dynamics by agribusiness segments, from April-June 2020 to April-June 2019, all segments registered decreases, and the most significant ones occurred for industry and agro-services. These trends were atypical and linked to the covid-19 crisis and its impacts on economic activities. In this scenario, the agribusiness shares on the Brazilian labor market was 20.07% in the second quarter of 2020, which indicates that, despite the sharp decreases, the agribusiness labor market faced less severe problems compared to other sectors in the Brazilian economy.


In the third quarter of 2020, the EP in agribusiness was 16.94 million people, 7.58% smaller compared to the same period in 2019. Taking segments into account, all of them registered decreases in different intensities – again, the most significant decreases were observed for the industry and agro-services. Following the scenario observed in the previous quarter, trends were related to the pandemic. However, in this period, there was a slight recovery of jobs compared to the second quarter of 2020: the EP rose by 1.3%, or 216.97 thousand people. This was an indication of recovery in the agribusiness labor market, after the period from April to June, considered, up until then, the most critical concerning the effect of covid-19 on the sector.


In the last quarter of the year, the EP in agribusiness totaled 17.57 million people, downing 3.69% in relation to that in the same period of 2019, but moving up 3.74% compared to the third quarter of 2020, reinforcing the recovery in the labor market of the sector.


As a result, on the average of the four quarters of 2020, the EP in the Brazilian agribusiness amounted 17.30 million people, downing 5.2% (or 948.61 thousand people) in relation to 2019. This behavior is partly linked to the crisis caused by the pandemic on the economic activity and, consequently, the job level in the sector. However, the performance of employment in the agribusiness in the last two quarters of the year mitigated this scenario.


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