Table of Contents


See also related chapters e.g. “Grain and oilseeds”, “Milling”, “Grain storage and handling” etc.


1. Overview

Maize (Zea mays L.) is the most important grain crop in South Africa and is produced throughout the country under diverse environments. See fuller discussion under heading 3.

Successful maize production depends on the correct application of production inputs that will sustain the environment as well as agricultural production. These inputs are, inter alia, adapted cultivars, plant population, soil tillage, fertilisation, weed, insect and disease control, harvesting, marketing and financial resources.

In developed countries, maize is consumed mainly as second-cycle produce, in the form of meat, eggs and dairy products. In developing countries, maize is consumed directly and serves as staple diet for some 200 million people. Most people regard maize as a breakfast cereal. However, in a processed form it is also found as fuel (ethanol) and starch. Starch in turn involves enzymatic conversion into products such as sorbitol, dextrine, sorbic and lactic acid, and appears in household items such as beer, ice cream, syrup, shoe polish, glue, fireworks, ink, batteries, mustard, cosmetics, aspirin and paint.

Source: (page 3) 


2. International business environment

With strong demand for maize from food companies, livestock producers and ethanol makers, American maize (corn) production is considered a critical component in global supply and demand.

  • The USA is the largest producer of maize, followed by China, Brazil, the EU and Argentina (USDA, 2018).
  • The largest exporters of maize are the USA, Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine and Russia (USDA, 2018).
  • Top importers are the EU, Mexico, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam (USDA, 2018).

Useful reading:

  • The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline 2018-2027 includes an overview of the global maize situation and trends (see page 28). Find it at
  • Maize (corn) is included in the “Grain: World Markets and Trade” circular available from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Statistics of global role players (countries) are listed. Production, consumption, exports etc are looked at. This circular is available on the Foreign Agricultural Service Home Page. The address is
  • Visit the National Corn Growers Association website –
  • The maize price is determined by the prices of the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) (refer also to the “Commodity trading” chapter).


South Africa: exports and imports

Find the latest presentations and other information on the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS),

  • Most of the 800 000 tonnes of white maize exported by South Africa in 2017/18 went to SADC and other African countries. Yellow maize exports went to Japan, Taiwan and South Korea (SAGIS, 2018).
  • South African exports to Southern African countries face increased competition from Zambia which produces non-GM maize and enjoys a more favourable transport differential than SA (BFAP, 2018).

Further reading

  1. The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline Baseline places its discussion of the maize industry in the context of the global maize situation. Find the document at
  2. An analysis of South African imports and exports is given in the annual Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries' Maize Market Value Chain Profile (find it under “Annual publications” on the Directorate Marketing web pages at
  3. The annual ABSA Agricultural Outlook is recommended reading.