Key sectors


South Africa's farming sectors

South Africa is divided into a number of farming regions according to climate, natural vegetation, soil type and farming practices.

Agricultural activities range from intensive crop production and mixed farming in winter rainfall and high summer rainfall areas to cattle ranching in the bushveld and sheep farming in more arid regions.

FIELD CROPS AND HORTICULTURE

Grain and oilseeds
The grain industry is one of the largest in South Africa, producing between 25% and 33% of the country's total gross agricultural production. The largest area of farmland is planted with maize, followed by wheat and, to a lesser extent, sugarcane and sunflowers.

Maize is the largest locally produced field crop, and the most important source of carbohydrates in the southern African region. South Africa is the main maize producer in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

More than 9 000 commercial maize producers are responsible for the major part of the South African crop, while the rest is produced by thousands of small-scale producers. Maize is produced mainly in North West province, the Free State, the Mpumalanga Highveld and the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Local consumption of maize amounts to about 8mt, and the surplus is exported.

Wheat is produced in the winter rainfall areas of the Western Cape and the eastern parts of the Free State. Barley is produced mainly on the southern coastal plains of the Western Cape. The Oudtshoorn district is responsible for about 90% of the lucerne seed produced in South Africa. Sorghum is cultivated in the drier parts of summer rainfall areas such as Mpumalanga, the Free State, Limpopo, North West and Gauteng.

South Africa is the world's 10th largest producer of sunflower seed, which is produced in the Free State, North West, the Mpumalanga Highveld and Limpopo province. Groundnuts are grown mainly in the Free State, North West and the Northern Cape.

Sugar
South Africa is the world's 13th largest sugar producer. Sugarcane is grown in 15 areas extending from northern Pondoland in the Eastern Cape through the coastal belt and Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal to the Mpumalanga Lowveld. An estimated 2.5mt of sugar is produced each season. Some 50% is marketed in southern Africa, with the rest exported to Africa, the Middle East, North America and Asia.

Fruit
Deciduous fruit is grown mainly in the Western Cape and in the Langkloof Valley in the Eastern Cape. Smaller production areas are found along the Orange River and in the Free State, Mpumalanga and Gauteng. This industry's export earnings represent about 12% of South Africa's total earnings from agricultural exports.

Citrus is produced in the irrigation areas of Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Pineapples are grown in the Eastern Cape and northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Other subtropical crops - avocados, mangoes, bananas, litchis, guavas, pawpaws, granadillas, and macadamia and pecan nuts - are produced in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and in the subtropical coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Wine
South Africa is the ninth largest wine producer in the world. Over 110 000ha of land are under cultivation, with over 300-million vines. About 84% of wines are produced by cooperatives. Over 4 000 primary wine producers employ over 60 000 people.

South African wine exports rose from 22-million litres in 1992 to almost 314-million litres in 2007, with exports, between January 2007 and January 2008, outstripping domestic sales for the first time ever.

Vegetables
About 40% of South Africa's potato crop is grown in the high-lying areas of the Free State and Mpumalanga. Limpopo, the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape, and the high-lying areas of KwaZulu-Natal are also important production areas. Of the total crop, about 50% is delivered to fresh produce markets and a further 18% processed, with the South African potato processing industry having grown tremendously over the past decade.

Potatoes make up about 40% of vegetable farmers' gross income, with tomatoes, onions, green mealies and sweetcorn contributing about 38%.

Tomatoes are mainly produced in Limpopo, the Mpumalanga Lowveld and Middleveld, the Pongola area of KwaZulu-Natal, the southern parts of the Eastern Cape, and the Western Cape. Onions are grown in Mpumalanga, the Western Cape and the southern Free State. Cabbage production is concentrated in Mpumalanga and the Camperdown and Greytown districts of KwaZulu-Natal.

Cotton
Cotton is cultivated in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and North West. It constitutes about 74% of natural fibre and 42% of all fibre processed in South Africa. Cotton is grown under irrigation as well as in dryland conditions. Seventy-five percent of local production is harvested by hand.

Tobacco
Virginia tobacco is produced mainly in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, with smaller quantities of Oriental tobacco grown in the Western and Eastern Cape. There are more than 1 000 growers in the country, producing some 34-million kilograms every year on about 24 000ha of land.

Tea
Honeybush tea grows mainly in the coastal and mountainous areas of the Western Cape and in certain areas of the Eastern Cape. Honeybush has become a commercial crop, with the production of more than 100 tons of processed tea per year. South Africa's industry has seen an improvement in the quality of tea and the establishment of export standards, the construction of a large processing and packaging facility in Mossel Bay, increased consumer awareness, the appearance of several brand names on supermarket shelves, and a growing overseas market.

Rooibos tea is an indigenous herb produced mainly in the Cedarberg area of the Western Cape.

Ornamental plants and cut flowers
Ornamental plants are produced throughout South Africa, but production for export is concentrated in the central parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng province. The crop includes nursery plants, cut flowers and pot plants. The country's most important plant export products are gladioli, proteas, bulbs, chrysanthemum cuttings and roses. Amaryllis bulbs are a lucrative export product to the US.

The fynbos industry is being transformed from wild harvesting to cultivation, with an array of cultivars planted. Further fynbos species have potential for development as crops, provided the necessary research funding can be secured. Dried flowers form an important component of the fynbos industry. A large variety of proteas, conebushes and other products are well established in the marketplace.

LIVESTOCK FARMING

Livestock is the largest agricultural sector in South Africa, with a population of some 13.8-million cattle and 28.8-million sheep. Stock breeders concentrate on the development of breeds that are well adapted to diverse climatic and environmental conditions.

Dairy farming
Dairy is produced throughout South Africa, with most farms in the eastern and northern Free State, North West, the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the Eastern and Western Cape, Gauteng and the southern parts of Mpumalanga. The four major dairy breeds in South Africa are the Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey and Ayrshire.

The dairy industry is important to South Africa's job market, with over 4 000 milk producers employing about 60 000 farmworkers and indirectly providing jobs to some 40 000 people.

Beef farming
South Africa produces 85% of its meat requirements, with 15% imported from Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Australia, New Zealand and the EU. Local demand generally outstrips production, even though there are untapped reserves in the communal farming areas.

Cattle ranches are found mainly in the Eastern Cape, parts of the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Northern Cape. Popular beef breeds include the indigenous Afrikaner and Nguni and locally developed Bonsmara and Drakensberger. European and American breeds such as Charolais, Hereford, Angus, Simmentaler, Sussex, Brahman and Santa Gertrudis are maintained as pure breeds or used in cross-breeding.

Sheep and goat farming
South African sheep farming is concentrated in the Northern and Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga, with Ermelo in Mpumalanga being one of the largest wool-producing districts. About 50% of the country's sheep are fine-woolled Merinos. Other breeds include the locally developed Afrino, a woolled mutton breed adapted to arid conditions, the South African Mutton Merino, the Dohne and the Merino Landrace. South Africa's mutton is produced from the Dorper - a highly productive and locally developed mutton breed for arid regions - and the woolled Merino.

Karakul sheep are farmed in the more arid areas. The indigenous meat-producing Boer goat accounts for about 30% of all commercial goats. The Angora goat is used for mohair production.

Poultry and pig farming
South Africa's poultry and pig farms are more intensive than the extensive sheep and cattle production, and are found near the metropolitan areas of Gauteng, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The predominant pig breeds are the South African Landrace, the Large White, the Duroc and the Pietrain.

South Africa's annual poultry meat production is around 960 000 tons. Broiler production contributes about 80% to total poultry meat production, with the rest made up of mature chicken slaughter (culls), small-scale and backyard poultry production, ducks, geese, turkeys and other specialised white meat products.

South Africa accounts for around 65% of world sales of ostrich products - leather, meat and feathers.

Game farming
South Africa has more game and a wider variety of game species than most countries. Game farming has grown over the years, and today is a viable industry with great economic potential. The country's main game areas are in Limpopo province, North West, Mpumalanga, the Free State, the Eastern Cape, the Karoo, the Kalahari in the Northern Cape and the thorn scrub of KwaZulu-Natal.

A descriptive game-production model has been developed for optimising intensive animal production on game farms, with the potential to increase the global produce of the game industry by between 8% and 15%.

Aquaculture
The aquaculture industry in South Africa continues to make meaningful progress in cultivation technology, marketing strategy, marketing practice and scientific innovation. Mussels, trout, tilapia, catfish, oysters and waterblommetjies (Cape pondweed) are the major aquaculture species. Mussel farming occurs mainly at Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape.

Article last updated: October 2008

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