• 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, Land Reform and Rural Development publication - see "Websites & publications" heading)

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

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 (USDA, 2018).
  • The largest producers of soybeans are the US, Brazil, Argentina, China and India. Brazil is the top exporter, followed by the US, Argentina, Paraguay and Canada. The biggest importer by far is China, followed by the EU, Mexico, Egypt and Japan (USDA, 2018).
  • The major producers in Africa are South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, Benin and Zimbabwe.
  • The SADC Secretariat and German Development Corporation‘s Profiling of the Regional Agro-Processing Value Chains in the SADC Region (March 2019) includes a look at soybeans.
  • Analysis from Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) prototype farms indicated that local farms were less competitive compared to international counterparts such as Brazil, Argentina and the United States of America. This was driven mainly by lower yields and higher cost for selected input items (BFAP, 2018).

Further reference:


South Africa imports and exports

  • A mere 20% of total oilcake demand was supplied locally in 2007, but this has increased to 67% by 2017. It is projected that 90% of total oilcake demand will be supplied by local facilities by 2027. Dominant in the oilcake complex, soybean oilcake consumption reached 1.2 million tonnes by 2017, and is projected to rise further to 1.56 million tonnes by 2027 (BFAP, 2018).
  • Soybean oil production is expected to grow much faster at an annual average of 5.6% over the next decade. This implies that the share of imports in terms of total domestic consumption continues to decline (BFAP, 2018).
  • 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.
  • With regard to exports, phytosanitary requirements and quality standards must be adhered to and a PPECB certificate must be obtained.
Source: USDA “Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade” September 2018, BFAP Baseline 2018-2027

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.

  • Over the past 10 years, the gross producer value GPV for soybeans increased more than any other agricultural commodity (ABSA, 2018).
  • 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, the Free State, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal. Over 80% of the country’s are produced here (DAFF, 2017).
  • 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.
  • Soybean consumption in the country is estimated at 32% for oil and oilcake, 60% for animal feed (especially in the broiler and egg industries) and 8% for human consumption. Soy oil (18% of the seed) is processed to specific oil products for use in the food industry (DAFF, 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.
  • Statistics (e.g. crop estimates, export/import etc) may be found on the SAGIS website – www.sagis.org.za.
Source:  Previous SAGIS notes to this project; Soyabean Market Value Chain Profile 2017.


Notes from the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline 2018-2027: general soybean

  • In 2017, South Africa produced 1.3 million tonnes of soybeans on 574 thousand hectares. The substantial year on year increase in yield levels brought the national average to 2.29 tonnes per hectare; the highest on record. The Crop Estimates Committee reports that in 2018, the area planted to soybeans expanded to an all-time high of 787 thousand hectares, a 37% year-on-year increase. A return to longer term trend yields implies that production is expected at 1.55 million tonnes. This makes soybeans the fastest growing field crop industry in South Africa over the past decade; area and production respectively increased by an average of 15% and 20% per annum.
  • Domestically, it will remain key to pursue higher yields, in a more productive manner in order to enhance the competitiveness of producers. More importantly, and in particularly for the Western production regions, it is essential to reduce annual yield volatility in order to reduce the relative production risk of soybeans against its alternatives, namely maize and sunflower.
  • BFAP projects the area cultivated to soybeans to continue expanding and reach 962 thousand hectares by 2027. The SAFEX price is projected to trade between import and export parity, with the derived price for the cake and the oil determining a relative benchmark for the local price.


Notes from the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline 2018-2027: oilcake

  • Since 2012, 1.75 million tonnes of dedicated soybean crushing capacity has been established in South Africa, which represents a total capital investment of approximately R2 billion.
  • In 2017, 891 thousand tonnes of soybeans (68% of South Africa’s soybean crop) were crushed, which is projected to increase to 75% in 2018 (1.06 million tonnes).
  • Currently, the local demand for soybean cake exceeds the local levels of production. The development of the new crushing plants has resulted in progressive replacement of imports by local production, yet a significant amount of soybean cake is still imported.
  • Domestic crushing plants compete with imported oilcake produced mostly in mega plants in Argentina. This puts significant pressure on domestic crushers to continuously improve efficiencies, capacity utilisation, and to beat the quality of imported oilcake.
  • Fire damage to a crushing plant and a preference by some chicken producers for imported rather than locally produced soybean cake means that some 50 thousand tonnes of soybean cake will likely be imported in the current season despite the fact that South Africa can supply a significant share of this volume locally.
  • Results from comparative studies on quality (SA vs other oilcake) suggest that it is only a matter of time before uptake of locally produced oilcake relative to imported oilcake will increase

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.

A motivation for the new R65 levy (March 2019) on soybeans sold can be read at https://agbiz.co.za/uploads/AgbizNews19/190301_Soybean%20levy.pdf.

Role players


Associations involved


Training and research

See also this heading on the “Grain & Oilseeds” page.

  • Agricultural Colleges/Provincial Departments of Agriculture do training and research in soybean production. Refer to the “Agricultural education and training” page.
  • AgriSETA-accredited training providers offer training courses on soybean production. Buhle Framers Academy, Skills for Africa, Agriskills Transfer and NOSA Agricultural Services are examples. Find the full list at www.agriseta.co.za.
  • ARC-Grain Crops (GC) Tel: 018 299 6100 www.arc.agric.za A short course on Soybean production is offered on demand.
  • ARC-Plant Protection Research Dr Sandra Lamprecht, LamprechtL [at] arc.agric.za
  • Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) www.bfap.co.za
  • Oil and Protein Seeds Development Trust Tel: 011 234 3400 www.opot.co.za The Oil and Protein Seed Development Trust provides funding for research on sunflowers, soybeans and groundnuts that is in the interest of producers, processors and consumers.
  • North-West University – see Centre for Advanced Manufacturing (CFAM) Technologies Pty Ltd under “Companies”.
  • Protein Research Foundation Tel: 011 803 2579 / 1894 www.proteinresearch.net Find the links to various videos on soybean cultivation.
  • Southern African Grain Laboratory (SAGL) Tel: 012 807 4019 www.sagl.co.za Accredited [ISO 17025] as the reference laboratory for the grain and oilseed industries in Southern Africa.
  • University of the Free State Department of Plant Science Tel: 051 401 2514 www.ufs.ac.za/plantsci
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal The Department of Plant Pathology Professor Mark Laing Tel: 033 260 5526/4 www.ukzn.ac.za
  • University of Pretoria Department of Plant Production and Soil Science Tel: 012 420 3809 / 223 www.up.ac.za
  • Vaal University of Technology (VUT) Soy Research Laboratory, Centre of Sustainable Livelihoods Tel: 016 930 5132 / 5085  www.vut.ac.za

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, looked 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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