South African production of key foods good to reasonable

10th April 2020 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

An independent research centre, the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), has published an overview of five key foods produced in South Africa, as part of its analysis of the food and agricultural aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis. The foods are chicken (meat), maize (grains), soybean (oilseeds), citrus (fruits), and potato (vegetables).

Regarding chicken, for more than a decade, demand has exceeded local production. Until recently, the local industry suffered from high feed costs and very competitively priced imports. However, during 2018 and 2019, the local producers saw their margins improve. Local production is also climbing. The Poultry Masterplan, recently concluded, is forecast to lead to increased production. Weekly slaughters early this year were already 5% up on the figure for last year (20.5 million a week, compared with 19.5 million a week). Local production is expected to be even higher during the second half of this year.

South African maize production usually exceeds local demand. Most times, 15% to 20% of the local crop is exported, both white maize for human consumption (mainly to other Southern African countries) and yellow maize for animal feed (to world markets). At the end of February this year, South Africa had a stock of white maize of 1.6 million tons (Mt). This was enough for nearly four months of processing. The yellow maize stock was 1.3 Mt, or almost three months’ worth, in processing terms.

This meant that there was sufficient maize to last the country until the new crop was brought in. This is expected to be a large crop – the Crop Estimates Committee projects 14.8 Mt (8.5 Mt of which would be white maize), but the BFAP now suggests it could reach 15.5 Mt (9.1 Mt being white maize). South African human consumption of maize, as a basic staple food, is estimated at 5.4 Mt a year (Mt/y), while local animal feed consumption is about 5.8 Mt/y. South Africa should thus have plenty of maize this year, and be able to both export and to cut prices at home, benefitting lower-income families.

The BFAP also points out that, in addition to the formal maize sector, from which these figures come, the country also has an informal maize sector. The bureau estimates that this sector usually produces another 400 000 t/y of white and 200 000 t/y of yellow maize.

Currently, local soybean production does not meet domestic demand. But local production is increasing significantly. Five years ago, South African production met 60% of local demand. Last year, this proportion stood at 75%. When processed, soybeans yield 75% oilcake (for animal feed) and 17.5% oil. The country uses about 1.2 Mt/y of soybean oilcake for animal feed. The country’s total production of soybeans this year is forecast at some 1.2 Mt. This means the country will have to import about 350 000 t of soybean meal this year.

Production in South Africa’s export-orientated citrus fruits sector far exceeds local demand – no less than 70% of total production is exported. The 2020 season has just started and a record crop is expected. Local prices are significantly lower than export prices and the local market cannot absorb the sector’s total production. The global spread of Covid-19 is thus a very big risk for the sector, which requires its global export chains to continue working efficiently and for international demand to remain solid.

Potatoes are the most important vegetable crop in South Africa. For more than a decade, local production has exceeded local demand. Because of different climatic conditions in these regions, the country can produce potatoes all year round. Although the number of potato farmers has fallen significantly, production increased from 1.6 Mt in 1997 to 2.5 Mt in 2019.