The figure was obtained during the 2011 census, which also indicated that often families involved in farming lived in poverty and had poor access to basic services, he told a media briefing in Pretoria.
The population count, which canvassed 14 million households, showed that in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape 32 percent of households conducting agriculture reported having no income.
In all provinces, apart from the Western Cape, families who farmed were predominantly African.
Forty-one percent of those involved in the Western Cape were coloured, but it was also the province with the lowest percentage of households –five percent — involved in agriculture.
In most provinces, the major form of agriculture was keeping livestock.
Lehohla said the information gleaned from responses to three questions included in the census form was not sufficiently detailed to form a complete picture of farming activity and the economic status of those involved in it.
The census did not indicate clearly, for example, whether families practised subsistence or commercial farming.
Lehohla said the reason why those reliant on agriculture endured poor access to services might lie more in their location than in any government policy.
“We also know that agriculture is practised in rural areas where the provision of facilities is very difficult. When you look at the Eastern Cape and the altitude, when it comes to things like the provision of water, then it becomes very expensive to provide water.”
If the findings lacked nuance, he said, it would however facilitate a follow-up study because government had now identified the households that would be canvassed.
“The purpose was, in part, to give us a frame so that when we go for a fully fledged agricultural census we know where to go. When we do the agriculture census we will go to those 2.8 million.
“There are many stories behind census numbers and the agricultural household numbers touch on poverty issues of this country. Municipalities and government at large can use this data for better planning and to implement change.”
Government planned to use the information obtained to strengthen agriculture in a bid to see the sector provide jobs to more people, he added.
At the moment agriculture employed 5.2 percent of the workforce but only accounted for 2.5 percent of annual gross domestic product.
“Agriculture contributes 2.5 percent of GDP, but in terms of employment agriculture punches above its weight with 5.2 percent,” Lehohla said.
The provinces with the highest number of households practising agriculture were KwaZulu-Natal with 24.9 percent, Eastern Cape with 20.7 percent, and Limpopo with 16.3 percent.
The agricultural census was supposed to take place this year, but it had been delayed and no new date had yet been fixed.