Agriculture in South Africa

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A windpump on a farm in South Africa.

Agriculture in South Africa contributes around 10% of formal employment, relatively low compared to other parts of Africa, as well as providing work for casual laborers and contributing around 2.6 percent of GDP for the nation.[1] Due to the aridity of the land, only 13.5 percent can be used for crop production, and only 3 percent is considered high potential land.[2]

According to FAOSTAT, South Africa is one of the world's largest producers of: chicory roots (4th); grapefruit (4th); cereals (5th); green maize and maize (7th); castor oil seed (9th); pears (9th); sisal (10th); fibre crops (10th).[3] The dairy industry consists of around 4,300 milk producers providing employment for 60,000 farm workers and contributing to the livelihoods of around 40,000 others.[4]

The South African government has set a target of transferring 30% of productive farmland to 'previously disadvantaged' blacks by 2014.[5] Land reform has been criticised both by farmers' groups and by landless workers, the latter alleging that the pace of change has not been fast enough, and the former alleging racist treatment and expressing concerns that a similar situation to Zimbabwe's land reform policy may develop,[6] a fear exacerbated by comments made by former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.[7][8] On 27 February 2018, the National Assembly voted to set in motion a process to amend the Constitution so as to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.[9]

The government has been accused of either putting in too much effort,[10][needs update] or not enough effort,[11] to tackle the problem of farm attacks as opposed to other forms of violent crime.

Some predictions show surface water supply could decrease by 60% by the year 2070 in parts of the Western Cape.[12] To reverse the damage caused by land mismanagement, the government has supported a scheme which promotes sustainable development and the use of natural resources.[13] Maize production, which contributes to a 36% majority of the gross value of South Africa's field crops, has also experienced negative effects due to climate change. The estimated value of loss, which takes into consideration scenarios with and without the carbon dioxide fertilization effect,[14] ranges between tens and hundreds of millions of Rands.[15]


Cleaning and packing maize
Sheep farming in Gauteng

Based on prehistorical archaeological evidence of pastoralism and farming in southern Africa, ancient settlements closest outside the present-day South African border region, related to Bantu language speaking peoples, so far was found in sites located in the southernmost region inside the borders of what is now Mozambique, and dated 354–68 BCE. Findings similarly based on pastoralism and farming within South Africa thus far — is from sites identified in what was the Transvaal (province), they were dated 249–370 CE..[16]


In 2018, South Africa produced 19.3 million tonnes of sugarcane (14th largest producer in the world), 12.5 million tonnes of maize (12th largest producer in the world) 1.9 million tons of grape (11th largest producer in the world), 1.7 million tons of orange (11th largest producer in the world) and 397 thousand tons of pear (7th largest producer in the world). In addition, in the same year, it produced 2.4 million tons of potato, 1.8 million tons of wheat, 1.5 million tons of soy, 862 thousand tons of sunflower seed, 829 thousand tons of apple, 726 thousand tons of onion, 537 thousand tons of tomato, 474 thousand tons of lemon, 445 thousand tons of grapefruit, 444 thousand tons of banana, 421 thousand tons of barley, in addition to smaller productions of other agricultural products, such as avocado, pineapple, peach, tangerine, pumpkin, cabbage, carrot, rapeseed, sorghum etc.[17]


Cereals and grains[edit]

Grains and cereals are South Africa's most important crops, occupying more than 60 percent of hectare under cultivation in the 1990s. Maize, the country's most important crop, is a dietary staple, a source of livestock feed, and an export crop. Government programs, including generous loans and extension services, have been crucial to the country's self-sufficiency in this enterprise. Maize is grown commercially on large farms, and on more than 12,000 small farms, primarily in North-West, Mpumalanga, Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. Maize production generates at least 150,000 jobs in years with good rainfall and uses almost one-half of the inputs of the modern agricultural sector.

Maize production exceeds 10 million tons in good years; owing to regional drought in the early 1990s, however, production fell to just over 3 million tons in 1992, and roughly 5 million tons of maize were imported, at a cost of at least US$700 million. Both domestic and imported maize was shipped to neighbouring countries to help ease the regional impacts of the drought. The drought eased in 1993, and officials estimated the 1994 harvest at approximately 12 million tons. Below-average rainfall in late 1994 again threatened to reduce maize output in 1995, and officials expected to import some 600,000 tons of maize in that year. Plentiful rain in late 1995 provided for a bumper crop in 1996.

Wheat production, which is concentrated in large, highly mechanised farms, also increased after World War II. Wheat cultivation spread from the western Cape where rainfall is fairly reliable, to the Orange Free State and the eastern Transvaal, primarily in response to rising consumer demand. But wheat harvest volumes vary widely; for example, roughly 2.1 million tons were produced in 1991 and only 1.3 million tons in 1992. Production in the early 1990s failed to meet local demand for about 2.2 million tons per year. Wheat imports in 1992, for example, cost more than US$5 million.

Other small grains are grown in localised areas of South Africa. For example, sorghum—which is native to southern Africa—is grown in parts of the Free State, as well as in the North-West and the Northern provinces, with yields often exceeding 200,000 tons. Sorghum has been used since prehistoric times for food and brewing purposes. Barley is also grown, primarily in the Western Cape. Nearly 300,000 tons of barley were produced in 1995.

South Africa produces peanuts, sunflower seeds, beans, and soybeans. Annual production of these crops varies significantly from year to year, although South Africa is usually able to meet domestic vegetable-oil needs and generate some exports. Plentiful rains in late 1995 meant increased harvests of these crops in 1996, compared to 1994 and 1995.

Fruit and wine farming[edit]

Vineyard in Stellenbosch

Fruits, including grapes for wine, earn as much as 40 percent of agricultural export earnings in some years. (Fresh fruit finds a good market in Europe because it matures during the northern hemisphere's winter.) Deciduous fruits, including apples, pears, and peaches, are grown primarily in areas of the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape, where cold winters and dry summers provide ideal conditions for these crops. Almost 1 million tons of deciduous fruits were sold fresh locally or were exported each year in the early 1990s.

Pineapples are grown, primarily in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Tropical fruits—especially bananas, avocados, and mangoes—are also grown, especially in the northeast and some coastal areas. More than half of citrus production is exported in most years. South Africa exported 40 million cartons of citrus fruit in 1994, earning roughly R1.34 billion, according to industry sources.

More than 1.5 million tons of grapes are used domestically in South Africa's renowned wine industry, which dates back to the seventeenth-century vineyards introduced by French Huguenot immigrants. More than 100,000 hectares of land are planted in vineyards, centred primarily in the Western Cape. Smaller vineyards are also found in the Northern Cape, Free State, and Northern Province. One of the noticeable signs of the end of international sanctions against South Africa was a dramatic increase in worldwide demand for South African wines in 1994 and 1995.


Sugar fields north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal

Sugarcane is also an important export crop, and South Africa is the world's tenth largest sugar producer. Sugarcane was first cultivated in mid-nineteenth-century Natal. Production is still centred there, but sugar is also grown in Mpumalanga, where irrigation is used when rainfall is inadequate. Land under sugar cultivation has steadily increased, and the industry estimated that it produced more than 16 million tons of sugarcane in 1994.


Value in millions of South African rand:[18]

Commodity 2009
Poultry 23,165
Maize 16,346
Cattle and calves 12,808
Wheat 6,356
Milk 9,138
Deciduous and other fruit 8,040
Vegetables 7,843
Sugar cane 4,769
Citrus 4,628
Potatoes 4,058

Production of important field crops:

Commodity 2009[19]


2015[20] (fifth forecast)


Canola 40 350 101 500
Sugar cane 20 411 000
Malting barley 216 000 357 487
Maize 12 567 000
Vegetables 2 442 000
Citrus 2 218 000
Wheat 1 928 000 1 501 190
Deciduous and other fruit 1 829 000
Sunflower seed 833 000
Subtropical Fruit 655 000

Agricultural cooperatives[edit]

There are a number of Agricultural cooperatives in South Africa, including:

A lot of the cooperatives have changed with time in line with the changes in their individual business strategies.


In 2015 South Africa experienced the worst drought in 30 years.[21] Many farmers lost whole crops and much of their livestock. South Africa's dams also showed a decline with the Pongolapoort dam losing 20% of its water in just one year.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Human Rights Watch, 2001. Unequal Protection: The State Response to Violent Crime on South African Farms, ISBN 1-56432-263-7.
  2. ^ Mohamed, Najma. 2000. "Greening Land and Agrarian Reform: A Case for Sustainable Agriculture", in At the Crossroads: Land and Agrarian Reform in South Africa into the 21st century, ed. Cousins, Ben. Bellville, School of Government, University of the Western Cape. ISBN 1-86808-467-1.
  3. ^ "FAOSTAT 2008 by Production". Archived from the original on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
  4. ^ "Agriculture". South Africa Online. Archived from the original on 23 September 2006. Retrieved 17 July 2006.
  5. ^ Berger, Sebastien (21 October 2009). "Congo hands land to South African farmers". The Daily Telegraph. UK. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  6. ^ "South Africa's bitter harvest". The Times. UK. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  7. ^ "South Africans' long wait for land". BBC News. 27 July 2005. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  8. ^ "SA 'to learn from' land seizures". BBC News. 11 August 2005. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  9. ^ Gerber, Jan (27 February 2018). "National Assembly adopts motion on land expropriation without compensation". news24. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  10. ^ Bronwen Manby (August 2001). Unequal Protection – The State Response to Violent Crime on South African Farms. Human Rights Watch. ISBN 1-56432-263-7. Retrieved 28 October 2006.
  11. ^ "Farms of Fear". The Times. UK. 7 April 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  12. ^ Climate change to create African 'water refugees' – scientists, Reuters Alertnet. Accessed 21 September 2006]. Archived 25 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Department of Agriculture South Africa". Archived from the original on 11 November 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  14. ^ "The CO2 fertilization effect: higher carbohydrate production and retention as biomass and seed yield". Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  15. ^ J. Turpie; et al. (2002). "Economic Impacts of Climate Change in South Africa: A Preliminary Analysis of Unmitigated Damage Costs" (PDF). Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Inc. Southern Waters Ecological Research & Consulting & Energy & Development Research Centre. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 March 2009.
  16. ^ Lander, Faye; Russell, Thembi (2018). "The archaeological evidence for the appearance of pastoralism and farming in southern Africa". PLOS ONE. 13 (6): e0198941. Bibcode:2018PLoSO..1398941L. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0198941
  17. ^ South Africa production in 2018, by FAO
  18. ^ South Africa Yearbook 2010/11. p. 39.
  19. ^ South Africa Yearbook 2010/11. p. 42.
  20. ^ Dredge, Rodney D. (15 December 2015). "Crop Estimates Committee" (PDF). Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries. South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries Statistics and Economic Publications and Reports. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  21. ^ "South Africa grapples with worst drought in 30 years - BBC News". Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  22. ^ Fernandes, Luis. "Dam levels drop as drought is set to worsen". Retrieved 1 September 2016.

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website