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Agriculture in South Africa

From Wikipedia - Reading time: 12 min

Development of agricultural output of South Africa in 2015 US$ since 1961
A windpump on a farm in South Africa.

Agriculture in South Africa contributes around 5% of formal employment, relatively low compared to other parts of Africa and the number is still decreasing,[1] as well as providing work for casual laborers and contributing around 2.6 percent of GDP for the nation.[2] 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.[3]

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).[4] 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.[5]

The South African government has set a target of transferring 30% of productive farmland to 'previously disadvantaged' black people by 2014.[6] 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,[7] a fear exacerbated by comments made by former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.[8][9] 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.[10]

The government has been accused of either putting in too much effort,[11][needs update] or not enough effort,[12] 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 2070 in parts of the Western Cape.[13] To reverse the damage caused by land mismanagement, the government has supported a scheme which promotes sustainable development and the use of natural resources.[14] 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.[citation needed] The estimated value of loss, which takes into consideration scenarios with and without the carbon dioxide fertilization effect,[15] ranges between tens and hundreds of millions of Rands.[16]


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.[17] The earliest written record of farming life in South Africa by Europeans starts slightly after 1500 CE.[citation needed]


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.[18] Some of the produce is been exported to the rest of the world by import/ export companies in South Africa.


Cereals and grains[edit]

Grain elevator and silos in the Free State

Grains and cereals are South Africa's most important crops, occupying more than 60 percent of hectare under cultivation in the 1990s.[19] Maize, the country's most important crop, is a dietary staple, a source of livestock feed, and an export crop.[19] Government programs, including generous loans and extension services, have been crucial to the country's self-sufficiency in this enterprise.[19] Maize is grown primarily in North-West, Mpumalanga, Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.[19] As of the mid-1990s, maize production generated at least 150,000 jobs in years with good rainfall and used almost one-half of the inputs of the modern agricultural sector.[19] As of 2018, South Africa produced 12.5 million tonnes of maize.[18]

Wheat production, which is concentrated in large, highly mechanised farms, increased after World War II.[19] 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.[19] As of 2018, South Africa produced 1.8 million tonnes of wheat.[18]

Other small grains are grown in localised areas of South Africa.[19] 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 as of the mid-1990s.[19] Sorghum has been used since prehistoric times for food and brewing purposes.[19] Barley is also grown, primarily in the Western Cape.[19] In 2018, 421,000 tonnes of barley were produced.[18]

South Africa also produces peanuts, sunflower seeds, beans, and soybeans.[19]

Fruit and wine farming[edit]

Vineyard in Stellenbosch

As of the mid-1990s, fruits (including grapes for wine) earned as much as 40 percent of agricultural export earnings in some years.[19] (Fresh fruit finds a good market in Europe because it matures during the northern hemisphere's winter.[19]) 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.[19] Almost 1 million tons of deciduous fruits were sold fresh locally or were exported each year in the early 1990s.[19]

Pineapples are grown, primarily in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.[19] Tropical fruits—especially bananas, avocados, and mangoes—are also grown, especially in the northeast and some coastal areas.[19] More than half of citrus production is exported in most years.[19]

As of the mid-1990s, more than 1.5 million tons of grapes were used domestically in South Africa's renowned wine industry, which dates back to the seventeenth-century vineyards introduced by French Huguenot immigrants.[19] More than 100,000 hectares of land were planted in vineyards as of the mid-1990s, centred primarily in the Western Cape.[19] Smaller vineyards are also found in the Northern Cape, Free State, and Northern Province.[19]


Sugar fields north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal

Sugarcane is also an important export crop, and South Africa was the world's 14th largest sugar producer as of 2018.[18][19] Sugarcane was first cultivated in mid-nineteenth-century Natal.[19] Production is still centred there, but sugar is also grown in Mpumalanga, where irrigation is used when rainfall is inadequate.[19] More than 19 million tons of sugarcane were produced in 2018.[18]


Value in millions of South African rand:[20]

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
Potato 4,058

Production of important field crops:

Commodity 2009[21]


2015[22] (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.[23] 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.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "South Africa - employment by economic sector 2019".
  2. ^ Human Rights Watch, 2001. Unequal Protection: The State Response to Violent Crime on South African Farms, ISBN 1-56432-263-7.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "FAOSTAT 2008 by Production". Archived from the original on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
  5. ^ "Agriculture". South Africa Online. Archived from the original on 23 September 2006. Retrieved 17 July 2006.
  6. ^ Berger, Sebastien (21 October 2009). "Congo hands land to South African farmers". The Daily Telegraph. UK. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  7. ^ "South Africa's bitter harvest". The Times. UK. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  8. ^ "South Africans' long wait for land". BBC News. 27 July 2005. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  9. ^ "SA 'to learn from' land seizures". BBC News. 11 August 2005. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  10. ^ Gerber, Jan (27 February 2018). "National Assembly adopts motion on land expropriation without compensation". news24. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Farms of Fear". The Times. UK. 7 April 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  13. ^ Climate change to create African 'water refugees' – scientists, Reuters Alertnet. Accessed 21 September 2006]. Archived 25 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Department of Agriculture South Africa". Archived from the original on 11 November 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  15. ^ "The CO2 fertilization effect: higher carbohydrate production and retention as biomass and seed yield". Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ a b c d e f South Africa production in 2018, by FAO
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Byrnes, Rita M., ed. (1997). South Africa: a country study (3rd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. pp. 217–218. ISBN 0-8444-0796-8. OCLC 35887272. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.{{cite encyclopedia}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  20. ^ South Africa Yearbook 2010/11. p. 39.
  21. ^ South Africa Yearbook 2010/11. p. 42.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ "South Africa grapples with worst drought in 30 years - BBC News". BBC News. 30 November 2015. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  24. ^ Fernandes, Luis. "Dam levels drop as drought is set to worsen". Retrieved 1 September 2016.

External links[edit]

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