Table of Contents

1. Overview

The potato (solanum tuberosum) is recognised as an important foodstuff worldwide and is seen as a key component in the worldwide fight against hunger and malnutrition and the creation of food security. Potatoes are packed with vitamin B3, B5, B6, C and fibre. They are ranked after rice, wheat and maize as the world’s fourth largest food crop. (Some sources like the International Potato Centre – see next heading – rank potatoes third, after rice and wheat).

In addition to being eaten as a vegetable by humans, potatoes can be used as feed for livestock. The domestic processing sector uses potatoes for three processed products i.e. crisps, frozen and fresh French fries. Potato starch is used in the food industry as a thickener and binder of soups and sauces, and elsewhere as an adhesive and for the manufacturing of papers and boards. It holds potential as a base for biodegradable packaging too. Potatoes can also be used to brew alcoholic beverages like vodka.

Potatoes can also be used, of course, as seed tubers for growing the next season’s crop.

Source: Potatoes South Africa (adapted) and 
Inspecting a potato operation in Mpumalanga. A DAFF field trip.



2. International business environment

  • - website of the International Potato Center (CIP). CIP Publications include a wide range of literature on potatoes, sweet potatoes, andean roots and tubers, potato diseases, true potato seed, and much more. English and Spanish titles available.
  • - “The resource for the global potato industry”
  • Find articles on global fresh produce, potatoes included, at

China, India, Russian Federation, Ukraine, USA and Germany are the top global potato producers. Malawi, Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, Rwanda and Morocco are the major potato producers in Africa.

South Africa: imports and exports

In 2017, South Africa exported 63% of its processed crop to Spain, 19,4% to Namibia, 4,8% to Italy, 4,1% to China and 3,2% to Egypt (ABSA, 2017)


3. Local business environment

Find statistics and other information relevant to this heading at

  • Potatoes account for over 50% of South Africa’s vegetable production. As a result of the country’s unique climatic conditions, they are cultivated all year round
  • Around 600 producers in 16 production regions ensuring a permanent supply of fresh potatoes.
  • Approximately 50 000 hectares are planted under potatoes producing an average of 2 million tons of potatoes.
  • The bulk of potatoes are grown in Limpopo, the Western Free State, the Sandveld (Western Cape), and the Eastern Free State.
  • Except for the Eastern Free State, most potato production (85%) happens under irrigation.
  • In terms of hectares the Eastern Free State is the largest production area with some 9 989 hectares.
  • The most potatoes are produced in Limpopo because it is primarily produced under irrigation.
  • Potato production is particularly labour intensive.

The potato crop is distributed as follows:

  • Formal market (Fruit & Veg City, Pick ‘n Pay etc) – over a third of the crop.
  • Informal market (informal traders who buy 10kg pockets and repackage them for sale in smaller quantities) – this accounts for just over a quarter of the crop.
  • Processing (McCain Foods, Simba, etc) – just under a fifth of the crop.
  • Seed for the next season’s crop.
  • Export – South Africa is not a major exporter of potatoes. Exports go mainly to neighbouring countries.
Source: Potatoes South Africa 

The total potato area planted has remained largely constant around 51 thousand hectares. On the other hand, the average national potato yield has increased by an average 2.35% per annum over the past 20 years. These statistics illustrate a success story where yield improvements (driven by technological advancements and improved agricultural practices) have driven production increases despite area under potato production remaining stagnant.

For 2018, potato production is projected to increase by 3% to a record harvest of 2.53 million tonnes after a near-record harvest in 2017 (2.45 million tonnes).

The Baseline 2018-2027 also looks at the cost implication of the new national minimum wage. It sees the following outcomes: a producer could decide to cut back on production, shift towards alternative crops, mechanise certain labour-intensive operations, invest in labour-savings technology that might improve efficiency, or simply absorb the cost if margins allow it.

Source: BFAP Baseline Agricultural Outlook 2018-2027. Find it at

The annual A Profile of the South African Potato Market Value Chain put out by the Directorate Marketing at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) provides a useful overview of this sector. Find it here.