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 food prices racing higher around the world, and strong demand for maize from food companies, livestock producers and ethanol makers, American maize (corn) production is considered a critical component. The US is the world’s largest producer of maize, followed by China, Brazil and the EU (ABSA, 2017). 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).
  • 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 and production, consumption, exports etc are looked at. This circular is available on the Foreign Agricultural Service Home Page. The address is

South Africa and SADC

  • On average, Southern African Development Community (SADC) produces 29 million tons of maize. About 42% of that total is produced in South Africa. Moreover, about 70% of SADC (excluding SA) annual maize imports come from South Africa, which means that a decrease in South Africa’s maize production could affect the entire region (Agbiz, 2016).
  • The other major supplier of maize to the SADC region are Zambia and Uganda.

South Africa: exports and imports

Find the latest presentation and other information on the SAGIS website,

  • In 2016, South Africa, emerging from the worst drought since 1904, imported white maize from Mexico (95.1%) and the US (4.9%), and  yellow maize from Argentina (88.9%) and Brazil (11.1%) (SAGIS, 2017). Maize prices traded at import parity levels and domestic prices reached record highs, contrary to what happened globally.
  • Visit the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS) website,, every second working day of the week after 12h00 for updated import/export information. The Monthly Bulletin is also a vital source of information.
Source: SAGIS, 2016 

South Africa is expected to regain its status as a net exporter of maize in 2017 after two consecutive seasons of being a net importer. Find the article here. In May, Sihlobo revised his maize export opportunities within the African market due to competition in these countries and to GMO restrictions. SA maize is some 85% GMO which limits expansion into African markets.