• This is the fourth largest crop in the world after maize, wheat and rice.
  • Soybeans are an important source of vegetable oil and protein worldwide and there is growing interest in soy products amongst people who want to be healthy. Soy contains significant amounts of all the essential amino acids for humans.
  • Soybean seeds can be eaten as a vegetable. When processed they give soy milk. Soy sauce can be made from mature fermented beans, while roasted seeds can be used as a coffee substitute. Soy flour, another possibility, is used as additives and extenders to cereal flour, meat products and in health foods.
  • Soybeans is also a biofuel crop.
  • Soybean meal is a very rich protein feedstuff for livestock while the vegetative portions of the plant can be used as silage, hay, pasture or may be ploughed in as green manure.
  • The oil is used in the manufacturing of paints, linoleum, oilcloth, printing inks, soaps, insecticides and disinfectants. The lecithin phospholipids that are obtained as a by-product of the oil industry are used as wetting and stabilising agents in food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, leather, paint, plastic, soaps and detergent industries. Soybean meal and soybean protein are used in the manufacture of synthetic fibre, adhesives, textile sizing, waterproofing and fire-fighting foam. The straw can be used to make paper that is stiffer than that made from wheat straw.
  • It is an excellent rotation crop with clearly discernible benefits to crops following.

Sources: http://wikipedia.org; Soyabean Market Value Chain Profiles (a Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries publication – see heading 7)

For vegetable soybeans, refer to the “Vegetables” chapter.

International business environment

See the “Monthly Bulletin” on the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS) website for updated export/import information.

  • Soybeans account for the largest share of global oilseed demand [Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), 2016].
  • Production and trade by Brazil, the US and China accounts for nearly two-thirds of global soybean trade (USDA, 2017).
  • The world’s top PRODUCERS of soy are the United States, Brazil, Argentina, China and India. Other key producers include Paraguay, Canada, Ukraine and Bolivia.
  • The major EXPORTERS of soybeans are Brazil, the USA, Argentina, Canada, Paraguay, Uruguay, the Netherlands, Ukraine and China.
  • China, Spain, Germany and Japan lead the list of top IMPORTERS. There is a huge gap between China, the top importer with 65% share of global imports, and the rest (Agbiz, 2018).
  • South Africa is the foremost soybean producer in AFRICA, together with Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, Benin and Zimbabwe accounting for 90% of the continent’s soybeans.

Find the latest Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade at https://apps.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/app/index.html#/app/downloads

Visit the following websites:

See also

www.ift.org – Institute of Food Technologists (US).

South Africa imports and exports

  • The South African soybean industry has a negative trade balance: we do not grow enough soybeans for ourselves.
  • South Africa is the largest industrial user of soybean in sub-Sahara Africa. It has also been the largest importer up to now.
  • The domestic price (SAFEX) normally follows the import derived price (based on soymeal and oil). The import tariff for soybeans is 8% of the fob price.
  • In the 2016/17 season, South Africa imported soybeans mainly from Paraguay, Zambia and Ethiopia. The country exported to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho (SAGIS, 2017).
  • With regard to exports, phytosanitary requirements and quality standards must be adhered to and a PPECB certificate must be obtained.

Source: SAGIS PNS Soybean Workgroup 2 February 2017 document at www.sagis.org.za, previous SAGIS notes to this project; Agbiz article “African soybean market could see growth over the coming years” at www.thegreenkeeper.co.za; Agbiz Grain Market Overview, 28 June 2017 and 9 February 2016.

Local business environment

Find the “Regulations relating the grading, packing and marketing of soya beans intended for sale in the Republic of South Africa” on http://agbizgrain.co.za.

Soybean production surpassed sunflower in 2012, becoming the country’s most important oilseed crop (BFAP, 2016). Soybeans are mainly cultivated under dryland conditions, and grown primarily in Mpumalanga and the Free State. Over two-thirds of the country’s soybeans is grown here (DAFF, 2015). KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo are also significant soy bean growers, followed by the North West and Gauteng.

Depending upon local conditions, soybeans are typically planted in November through December. The plants react to day/night length ratios which stimulate the reproduction process. Planting in January will result in a shorter plant with lower harvest potential, as the days shorten during growth. On ripening, the leaves turn yellow and the moisture content of the seeds drops – from about 65% to 14% within 14 days – given that the weather is dry and hot.

South Africa’s production of soybeans is only a third of its crushing capacity, which is currently an estimated 2,5 million tons (BFAP, 2017). Investment in the soybean crushing capacity, intended as a stimulus towards domestic production, has had positive results. Soybean production has grown. The area cultivated to soybeans increased to 574 thousand hectares in 2017.

There remains space for a greater increase in domestic soybean production and South Africa remains a net importer of soybean oilcake and oil. The area panted with soybean is expected to increase to just under 900 thousand hectares in 2026 (BFAP, 2017). The average yield is projected to increase to a total soybean crop of 2.1 million tons by 2026. Domestic soybean oilcake production has exceeded imported oilcake since 2014 and is projected to increase to over 1.8 million tons by 2026, continually replacing imports so that only 250 thousand tons, or 13% of domestic soybean oilcake use is projected to be imported by 2026 (BFAP, 2017).

Soya oil imports are projected to decrease from 160 thousand tons in 2017 to merely 50 thousand tons by 2026 (BFAP, 2017).

What has driven significant growth for soy oilcake and oil is an increase in the demand for animal feeds as a result of the country’s growing middle class and the increased demand for high protein food.


  • No statutory levies are applicable and the marketing of oilseeds is free, the South African Futures Market determining domestic prices on a daily basis. The relative prices of other grain products, the exchange rate, availability of seed, availability and landed cost of imported crude oil, as well as plantings of other field crops mainly determine market prospects for soybeans.
  • The Soybean marketing season in South Africa commences on 1 March.
  • In 2016/17, soybeans were processed/consumed in the ratio: human consumption, 19 838 tons; animal feed, 85 930 tons; oil and oilcake, 756 624 tons. This made up a total of 862 392 tons (SAGIS, 2017).
  • Statistics (e.g. crop estimates, export/import etc) may be found on the SAGIS website – www.sagis.org.za.

Source: SAGIS PNS Soybean Workgroup 2 February 2017 document at www.sagis.org.za, previous SAGIS notes to this project; Agbiz Grain Market Overview, 9 February 2016; “Brief comments on South Africa’s soybean market – 2 August 2016″ (Agbiz)

For the grower

Find the many soybean production videos at www.proteinresearch.net.

Reasons for Soybean Growing

  • Diversification away from maize
  • The growing animal feed demand
  • Growing production of soyfood
  • Bio-diesel plant from soybeans
  • Soybeans is one of a few crops that can be planted in rotation with wheat to ensure two crops per annum
  • Crop rotation benefits include increased yields for both crops, and simplified weed and pest control.
  • Since South Africa has to import soy, marketing is not a problem.
  • Increased local production will save the country millions in foreign exchange

Source: “Grow Soybeans with confidence”, a brochure put out by the then Protein Research Foundation. Visit www.proteinresearch.net.

National strategy and government point of contact

The Agricultural Policy Action Plan 2015 – 2019 (APAP) document deals with soybeans within the context of the Poultry/Soybeans/Maize Integrated Value Chain. It identifies the role played by soybeans as a key constraint in the production costs of, amongst others, broilers and layers. This comes about because soy oilcake is a key ingredient in animal feeds and the country imports more than double what is produced locally. Although production has increased quite impressively [135ha in 2004 to 500ha in 2014], this remains insufficient for crushing facilities “to operate optimally”.

The Animal Feed Manufacturing Association (AFMA) has noted the increased drop in soy oilcake imports as a result of increased local crushing capacity, a result of the local soy strategy embarked on by the Department of Trade and Industry (AFMA Annual Report, 2015). Imports of soy oilcake are expected to continue dropping over time as they are replaced by the local product.

Role players

Associations involved

Training and research

See also this heading in the “Grain & Oilseeds chapter.

Eden Foundation Email: office [at] edenfoundation.org.za www.edenfoundation.org.za This Foundation assists communities and Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME) with the production and processing of soy. The focus is on short course training utilising appropriate technology, product development and technical consultancy services.

Companies involved

For an extensive list go to www.sagis.org.za – take the “List of Co-workers” and then “Soybeans” menu options.

Websites and publications

Visit the websites listed earlier in this chapter.

  • A number of publications are available from ARC-Grain Crops. Call 018 299 6100 for the following: Your Guide to Successful Soybean Production, Production of Soybeans [also available in Afrikaans], and Soybean Production Manual.
  • Available from ARC-Agricultural Engineering is Agro-processing of Oil Seeds (Soy beans, sunflower). Call 012 842 4017 or write to iaeinfo [at] arc.agric.za.
  • Find the latest annual Soyabean Market Value Chain Profile on the Directorate Marketing web pages at www.daff.gov.za.
  • The DAFFNAMC TradeProbe No 67, January 2017, looks at the production of soybeans in South Africa. No 65 gave an overview of the trade in soybean cake. Find the documents at www.namc.co.za.
  • Find the Soybean Cultivation DVDs by Wessel van Wyk and the Protein Research Foundation on www.youtube.com. Access the links from the Protein Research Foundation website, www.proteinresearch.net. Also find the latest copy of OILSEEDS Focus on the website.
  • Production guidelines: growing soya beans can be read under the “Publications” and “Brochures” options on www.daff.gov.za.
  • Find Pannar’s Soybean Production guide at www.pannar.com.
  • Find industry information – grading of soy beans, crop quality surveys etc – on the SAGL website, www.sagl.co.za.
  • www.sagis.org.za – the SAGIS website. Here you will find statistics (national stocks, producer deliveries, imports, exports, consumption; weekly parity prices, historical information, etc.).
  • www.ssa.org.za – The Soy Southern African website provides links to a host of relevant sites – processors, soybean research laboratories, soy organisations, biotechnology, consumers, soybean uses, pricing information and more.

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