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)

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.

Drawing on his findings for an MSc degree, Wandile Sihlobo (Agbiz) wrote in 2016 that South African maize exports are competitive relative to leading global exporters (USA, Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine, India, France, Romania, Hungary and Russia). However, production costs analysis showed that South Africa is less competitive relative to Argentina, Brazil, the USA and Ukraine.

Japan, Mexico, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand and Zimbabwe were identified as high-potential and attractive markets that South Africa should prioritise to increase its export share in the short to medium term. Moreover, the Market Attractiveness Index showed that Indonesia, Nigeria, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen are the top ten most attractive markets for South African maize exports.

In order to achieve this, there is a need to design an industry export strategy that will prioritise these markets in line with business interests and to explore existing potential. Such an initiative can be carried out on a public-private partnership, where private sector can provide business intelligence and government can handle the diplomatic trade relations. Current South African maize exports are concentrated and there is scope to access new markets.

Source: Wandile Sihlobo, the article “Long-term agricultural growth and resilience strategies needed”, 18 August 2016. Also find his article South African maize exports should access new markets on the London School of Economics and Political Science website,

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 FisheriesMaize 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.

Understanding the Economics of the Maize Industry

Since 1996 the maize market is an open and deregulated market. What you get for your crop is very much what the market prices at the time are.

A number of factors influence what this price is

  • The international price of maize. People want to save money. If they can buy maize from somewhere else at a price lower than yours, they will do so.
  • The current exchange rate. The balance between the South African rand and the American dollar might make it a bad idea for a miller to buy your maize when he could be getting it cheaper somewhere else. This is the reason why the exchange rate is watched with great interest.
  • Local production (influenced by weather conditions and hectares planted to maize). If there is not a lot of maize around, you will have many people wishing to buy your maize and so the price you get will be higher.
  • Local consumption of maize. If the demand for maize were to drop, then not that many people would be wanting to buy your maize and you would have to settle for a lower price.
  • Production levels in the SADC region (South Africa is usually the main source of white maize for these countries in times of shortage). If a lot of maize has been produced, then the people who buy it will be able to buy from elsewhere if you are wanting too much for yours.

Stock levels (both domestically and internationally). How much maize is available? In times of surplus, the price of maize is closer to export parity, whilst in times of shortages the price of maize will be closer to import parity. It should be emphasized that information on outlook and trends of the fundamental factors influence market perceptions of traders which eventually affect the price levels. Credible and timely information, especially on crop estimates, stock levels, imports and exports, is therefore critical for the proper functioning of the market.

Local business environment

Maize is the most important grain crop in South Africa, being both the staple food for the majority of the South African population and the major feed grain. Most of the maize produced in South Africa is consumed locally; as a result, the domestic market is very important to the industry.

  • Maize is produced throughout South Africa with Free State, Mpumalanga and North West provinces being the largest producers, accounting for over four-fifths of total production. Maize is produced mostly on dry land with less than 10% produced under irrigation.
  • Maize is planted mainly between mid-October and mid-December. The rainfall pattern and other weather conditions of a particular season determine the planting period as well as the length of the growing season.
  • About 60% of maize produced in South Africa has been white and the other 40% yellow maize (DAFF, 2015). BFAP (2016, 2017) expects this to have changed by 2021, with farmers shifting towards yellow maize and oilseeds. Yellow maize is easier to trade globally (BFAP, 2017)
  • White maize is primarily for human consumption. Yellow maize is the most important ingredient in feed rations for dairy, beef, poultry and egg production. The ratio between human consumption and animal feed is expected to change owing to patterns in the demand by animal feed, and the growing middle class population.
  • The maize industry is important to the economy both as an employer and earner of foreign currency because of its multiplier effects (maize also serves as a raw material for manufactured products such as paper, paint, textiles, medicine and food).
  • The local consumption requirements for maize are usually around 10.8-million tonnes per year.
  • Improved maize yields over time are attributed to precision farming, mechanisation and improved seed varieties (ABSA, 2016).
  • The maize marketing season in South Africa commences on 1 May and ends on 30 April the following year.

Source: Maize Market Value Chain Profile (Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries); BFAP Agricultural Outlook 2015 – 2024, 2016-2025, 2017-2026

BFAP undertook a study for the Maize Trust related to the potential of the domestic value chain to grow and diversify the production of value added goods. The diversified nature of U.S. maize consumption raises the question of whether the South African maize value chain is optimally developed. Refer to the report “Adding Value in the South African Maize Value Chain”.

Market value chain

The maize market value chain can be broken down into the following levels:

Sector Role players
Primary Input suppliers


Silo owners

Secondary Millers

Animal feed manufacturers

Tertiary Traders (hedgers, arbitrageurs and speculators)


Transporters (used throughout the chain)

 Useful references and documents

  1. Find the annual Maize Market Value Chain Profile under “Annual publications” on the Directorate Marketing web pages at Much of the information from heading 3 is drawn from there.
  2. Find the maize information (including crop quality, production regions and maps and much more) on
  3. Find the Grading Regulations for maize and requirements for grain exports at
  4. Statistics (e.g. crop estimates, export/import etc) may be found on the South African Grain Information Service website – – and on the National Department of Agriculture’s one (take the “Branches” and “Administration” menu options),
  5. Find the standard contract format for the transport of grain in Southern Africa at Also find the most recent AGM presentations. One of particular interest is that of Prof Johan Willemse who tackles the question “Do we have a free market in grain?”

Grower points of interest

Options for when there is a maize surplus and prices are low

“There are still a lot of unexplored opportunities in the secondary maize industries e.g. ethanol production and protein extraction. If we invest in the downstream maize industries, we can retain our competitiveness in the grain sectors”, believes Andrew Makenete.

What are the options of using your harvested maize profitably?

  • Store the grain until the prices are better (see the “Grain storage and handling” chapter).
  • Clean the grain, bag it and market it to small maize buyers. Giving them exactly what they want can earn you a premium price. This can include neighbouring livestock farmers, informal traders or those wanting it for household use.
  • Use it for your own livestock.
  • Diversify into a small, on-farm milling operation of your own Long term solutions.
  • Hedge your prices.
  • Plant 50% less maize.
  • Buy (and store) maize instead of planting it! Find the articles on “Moenie mielies plant: koop jou oes” [Don’t plant maize: buy your harvest] and “Moenie mielies plant: Koop oes (deel 2)”.
  • Plant other crops like groundnuts, soybeans or cowpeas. The latter, as a legume, fixes nitrogen in the soil benefiting follow-up crops. Cowpea can be grazed, baled or turned into silage.
  • Diversify into livestock production.

The Maize Trust and assistance to emerging maize farmers

The Maize Trust currently funds most of its transformation projects through the Farmer Development Programme of Grain SA and by means of the Grain Farmer Development Association (GFADA).

  • There are approximately 3 600 black farmers in the Grain SA study groups and 58 farmers in a 250 ton maize club. More than 120 black farmers are serviced currently as part of an advanced farmer project within the Development Programme of Grain SA.
  • GFADA assists black emerging farmers by paying for, inter alia, soil correction, comprehensive crop insurance and the costs of mentors to assist the farmers for a five year period or longer. By not being limited to funding for one commodity only, GFADA has the added benefit of crop rotation opportunities for the farmers.

Over and above the funding granted by means of GFADA and Grain SA, the Trust also funds transformation projects through projects of the Agricultural Research Council.

Source: Maize Trust. Interested parties are invited to contact the administrators of the Trust, L & L Agricultural Services. Call 012 807 3958 or e-mail at l-lagric [at]


Contacts for the Grain SA Development Programme:

Region Contact Contact details
Eastern Cape (Kokstad) Ian Househam 039 727 5749 kokstad  [at]
Eastern Cape (Maclear) Vusi Ngesi 012 816 8069 vusi [at]
Eastern Cape (Mthatha) Lawrence Luthango 047 531 0619 umthata [at]
Free State (Bloemfontein) Danie van den Berg 012 816 8009 danie [at]
Free State (Ladybrand) Johan Kriel 051 924 1099 ladybrand [at]
KwaZulu-Natal (Vryheid) Jurie Mentz 034 980 1455 Vryheid [at]
Mpumalanga (Nelspruit) Jerry Mthombothi 013 755 4574 Nelspruit [at]
North West (Lichtenburg) Du Toit van der Westhuizen 082 877 6749 dutoit [at]
Western Cape (Paarl) Liana Stroebel 012 816 8050 toit [at]
Operations Manager Willie Kotzé 082 535 5250 willie [at]


  • Reporter. 2018, July 26. “E-Cape to export maize to Vietnam”. SA News. Available at
  • The BFAP Baseline 2017-2026 did an investigation into the question “Maize production – How small is big ‘enough’?” (pp 34-36). Find the document at
  • The BFAP Baseline 2016-2025 looked at considerations regarding government support to smallholder maize farmers (pp 32-34). Find it at

National strategy and government contact

Find contact details and information on the different directorates at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) at (take the “Branches” menu option).

In a November 2017 report back, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said that it was working with the different grain commodity organisations to develop a suite of financial models (production, processing and Research and Development) with state guarantees/incentives. Money from the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme budget would be committed to fund this. Included is a plan to formalise the integration of smallholder farmers in the grains value chain through South African Futures Exchange 10-ton Black Economic Empowerment White Maize contracts for smallholder farmers producing grain (parliamentary Monitoring Group, 2017). See

One of ten “Sectoral interventions” in the Agricultural Policy Action Plan (APAP) is in the “Poultry/soya beans/maize integrated value chain”. It is envisaged that supporting the yellow maize sector will help keep animal feed costs down. This is to be done through “more targeted technical and input assistance, and encouraging stronger linkages between commercial and smallholder farmers, and feed companies via efficient market intermediaries such as cooperatives” (page 26). Maize also plays a role in animal feed for intensive beef production (feedlots) too.

Both the APAP and a previous BFAP Baseline (2015) touched on the comparatively high cost of fertiliser in South Africa, making the cost of producing maize under dryland conditions in South Africa is significantly higher, compared to leading global producers. When you import something like fertiliser, a host of other costs kick in: the exchange rate, deep sea freight rates, unloading- and administrative cost at ports and inland transportation. What can be done about this? Find the Agricultural Policy Action Plan (APAP) discussion on this in the “Fertiliser” chapter.

Role players

The details of many other role players can be found in related chapters of this publication e.g. “Grain and oilseeds”, “Grain storage and handling”, “Animal feeds”, “Milling” and “Small and micro milling”.


  • Agbiz Grain Tel: 012 807 3002
  • Animal Feeds Manufacturing Association (AFMA) Tel: 012 663 9097
  • Grain SA (GSA) Tel: 0860 047 246
  • Maize Trust Tel: 012 807 3958 The Board of Trustees ensures that the income derived from assets of the Maize Trust is utilised for the benefit of the whole maize industry. Find the earlier heading “The Maize Trust and assistance to emerging maize farmers”. The Trust also annually grants approximately 12 bursaries for maize related MSc and PhD studies to qualifying students at all the South African Universities, of which at least 50% is from disadvantaged communities.
  • National Chamber of Milling / Grain Milling Federation Tel: 012 663 1660
  • South African Cereals and Oilseeds Trade Association (SACOTA) Tel: 012 663 9097
  • South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS) Tel: 012 941 2050


See heading 6.

Training and research

  • ARC-GC (Grain Crops) Tel: 018 299 6100 In addition to research, ARC-GC provides short courses to farmers which cover soil preparation; fertiliser requirements; weed, pest, disease management; production practices of maize.
  • Agricultural Colleges and Universities offering agricultural qualifications do research and training in maize production. Find their details in the “Agricultural education and training” chapter.
  • AgriSETA accredited providers offer training on maize production. Examples include: (i) Agriskills Transfer Tel: 012 460 9585 (ii) Buhle Farmer’s Academy Tel: 087 803 0563 (iii) NOSA Agri Tel: 033 345 8990 (iv) Skills for Africa Tel: 012 379 4920
  • Grain Training Institute Tel: 071 312 7413
  • Southern African Grain Laboratory (SAGL) Tel: 012 807 4019
  • The Syngenta Grain Academy is a partnership between Syngenta and the University of the Free State’s Business School. Call 082 574 2272 or visit



Find the “Seeds & seedlings”, “Fertiliser”, “Speciality fertilisers”, “Crop protection” etc chapters

Grain storage and marketing

Refer to the “Grain storage & handling” and “Commodity trading” chapters.

Websites and publications

See also this heading in the “Grain and Oilseed” chapter.

  • Visit the websites listed earlier in this chapter e.g. and
  • Several publications and documents relating to maize can be found on the website of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), These include the Maize Market Value Chain Profile (find it on the Directorate Marketing web pages) and grower guides (find the “InfoPaks” and “Brochures & grower guides” options under the Resource Centre option). The 5th in the series Agricultural Marketing Extension Training Papers deals with field crop marketing with an emphasis on maize.
  • The CD Production of maize, diseases and pests and the Maize Information Guide (MIG) are two comprehensive information sources, available from ARC-GC. This can be downloaded at Alternatively, contact the ARC-GC at 018 299 6100.
  • Find the Nation in Conversation overview of the maize industry (April 2017) on YouTube.
  • Find the presentation “Monitoring biosecurity for the Grain Value chain” by Dr Marinda Visser (Grain SA) at,%20Grain%20SA.pdf
  • Easy to understand “Infotoons” are available on the subject: “The Cultivation of Maize”. Visit
  • Find the “Technical information” option under “Products” on the Pannar website at “Maize Production Manual – Know the Maize Plant (SA)” is a comprehensive booklet that guides one from the time of planting through to harvesting.
  • The results of maize research projects that were funded by the Maize Trust are available from the Administrators of the trust at l-lagric [at]
  • Find the Prospectus on the South African Maize Industry at
  • Learning material is available from NOSA Agricultural Services. Visit
  • The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project –
  • – read about national crop quality and other national projects on the Southern Africa Grain Laboratory website.
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