• 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

  • Soybeans account for the largest share of global oilseed demand (USDA, 2022).
  • The largest producers of soybeans are Brazil, US and Argentina (USDA, 2022). Brazil is the top exporter, followed by the US. The biggest importer by far is China, followed by the EU (USDA, 2022).
  • The largest producers of soybean meal are China, US, Brazil and Argentina (USDA, 2022). Argentina, Brazil and the US are the top exporters. The biggest importer by a large margin is the EU (USDA, 2022).
  • The largest producers of soybean oil are China, US, Brazil and Argentina (USDA, 2022). Argentina, Brazil and the EU are the top exporters. The biggest importers are India, China and Bangladesh (USDA, 2022).
  • The major producers of soybeans 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) in 2020 noted that South Africa could improve its competitiveness by either (i) achieving higher yields, or (ii) reducing the cost to produce a tonne of soybeans. In Argentina and Brazil the cost is around 56% of what South African farmers pay. Here the cost of R780 per hectare is well above (15%) the international sample average (BFAP, 2020).



Further reference:


South Africa imports and exports

See the “Monthly Bulletin” and Sunflower & Soybean Forum presentations on the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS) website for updated export/import information.

  • South Africa remains a net importer of soybean products, and so these tend to trade closer to import parity.
  • South Africa is a small player in the global soybean market, accounting for only 0,5% of global soybean production. This means that South African soybean prices are primarily influenced by market developments in significant soybean producing and consuming countries: the key producing countries are Brazil, the US, Argentina, India and Paraguay. China is the most significant consumer, importing over 60% of globally traded soybeans.
  • In the 2021/22 season, South Africa has imported soybeans from Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe; and exported to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malaysia and Botswana (SAGIS, 2021).
  • It remains more cost-effective for the Western Cape to import soybean oilcake than to transport it from the country’s summer rainfall area. BFAP notes that investment in rail infrastructure would enable South Africa to become self-sufficient(BFAP, 2021, 2020).
  • With regard to exports, phytosanitary requirements and quality standards must be adhered to and a PPECB certificate must be obtained.



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.
  • Soybean is mainly produced in the Free State (42%), Mpumalanga (30%), North West (11%) and KwaZulu-Natal (7%) (DALRRD, 2022).
  • The area planted with soybeans is expected to continue expanding as a result of the introduction of the breeding technology levy to incentivise seed companies to make the latest technology available to South African producers (BFAP, 2020).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Soybean consumption in the country is estimated at 87% for oil and oilcake, 11% for animal feed (especially in the broiler and egg industries) and 1% for human consumption (SAGIS, 2020).
  • Some 705 000 ha were under soybeans in 2020 (SAGIS, 2020).
  • Over the next decade, soybean production is expected to increase by 260 000 tonnes from the record crop in 2021 – an expansion of 2.4% per year. This is a slowdown from the past decade when the soybean sector was one of the most dynamic sectors in agriculture, but it is now becoming more mature and expanding at a much slower rate (BFAP, 2021).



  • 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.

The Southern African Grain Laboratory

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

Although the maize supply in South Africa is very mature, the supply of soya beans is still in a developmental phase, and is still to reach maturity in terms of volume potential. This value chain is working towards an inclusive Soya Value Chain Strategy, “which will benefit all value chain partners, creating a win-win situation for all those involved” (AFMA, 2020).

There is a levy on soybeans, administered by South African Cultivar & Technology Agency. See www.sactalevy.co.za.

Find contact details for the different directorates of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) at www.dalrrd.gov.za.


Role players


Associations involved


Training and research

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

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 on this page.

  • 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.
  • CD Roms from the ARC-PPR (Plant Protection Research) include: (i) Crop Pests, Vol. 4: Field Crops and Pastures Pastures  (ii) Medically Important Spiders And Scorpions Of Southern Africa. Write to booksales [at] arc.agric.za or infopri [at] arc.agric.za.
  • The Directorate Marketing used to publish the annual Soyabean Market Value Chain Profile. Check its web pages at www.dalrrd.gov.za to see if it has resumed this publication.
  • Consult the AgriSETA Learner Guide Primary Agriculture “Harvesting agricultural crops”.
  • Find the BFAP report “An overview of derived soy products used for human consumption in South Africa” (November 2021). Find it at www.bfap.co.za/an-overview-of-derived-soy-products-used-for-human-consumption-in-south-africa/
  • 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.dalrrd.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.)


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