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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rooibos tea is an indigenous herb produced mainly in the Cedarberg area of the Western Cape.
Ornamental plants and cut flowers
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 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.
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.
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
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 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.
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%.
Article last updated: October 2008
SAinfo reporter. Sources include:
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