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 the “potatoes” menu option 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 in South Africa has fluctuated around 50 to 55 thousand hectares over the last 20 years, but total production has increased by 43% during the same period.

Potato area is projected to increase marginally over the next 10 years, assuming the continued availability of irrigation water. During 2016, potato production decreased by 344 thousand tons (14%) from a record harvest of 2.5 million tons in 2015.

An increase of 8% is projected for 2017, implying a total potato harvest of 2.35 million tons.
Source: BFAP Baseline Agricultural Outlook 2017-2026. 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.