+27 71 448 3496

African trade remains key for South African agribusiness

Share Article
The African continent remains the largest export market for South Africa’s agriculture. In the record agricultural exports of USD12,8- billion in 2022, the African continent accounted for 37% #whyafrica #whyfarmafrica #agriculture #farming #africanfarming #southafrica #africa

African trade remains key for South African agribusiness

Although South Africa should expand its agricultural export markets to new frontiers such as India, China, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea, amongst others, the export drive should not be at the expense of the existing markets.

By Wandile Sihlobo   

We should actively engage with existing markets to promote further growth of exports of South African agricultural products. The engagement needs not only to focus on the European Union (EU) and Asia, both crucial regions for our export growth, but also on the rest of the African continent.

The African continent remains the largest export market for South Africa’s agriculture. In the record agricultural exports of USD12,8- billion in 2022, the African continent accounted for 37%.

Importantly, this was not an anomaly. The continent has accounted, on average, for 38% of South Africa’s agricultural exports by value per annum over the past five years.

Unlike the other regions South Africa exports to, where the composition of products is predominantly fruits, beef, wool and wine, maize is the leading export product in the African continent.

Other products exported to the rest of the African continent include apples, wheat, animal feed, prepared foods, wine, fruit juices, soybean oil, sunflower oil, alcoholic beverages, and soybean oilcake.

The leading markets were Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zambia, Angola, Nigeria, and Mauritius.

Except for Nigeria, these markets are within the Southern African Development Community’s Free Trade Area, which has benefited South Africa greatly. Moreover, these markets’ infrastructure and proximity advantage contributes to the concentration of South African agricultural exports to this region.

Engage to build strong relationships (African trade remains key for South African agribusiness)

As we advance this trade relationship with the Southern African Development Community and the rest of the African continent, there will need to be various industry and government engagements to keep warm relations.

Such an approach would help to avoid erroneous policy decisions, such as what Namibia and Botswana did in 2022 by blocking vegetable imports from South Africa. This policy action negatively affected the South African farmers that had increased production in anticipation of the regional demand.

Simultaneously, the consumers in Botswana and Namibia were also left with little choice as their typical supplies were suddenly out of the shelf.

Through close collaboration with the regional business community and government, we would address trade concerns without drastic steps by the neighbouring countries, which understandably want to prioritise the interests of local producers and consumers.

Aside from the long-term trade policy direction, the demand for South African agricultural products will likely increase in the 2023/24 marketing year within the African continent.

The 2023/24 marketing year corresponds with the 2022/23 production season. In the previous season, countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania had decent supplies of grains and other foodstuffs on the back of a reasonably good harvest (although lower than the bumper crops of the previous season).

Reports from FEWS NET suggest that dry and hot weather conditions in the earlier part of the 2022/23 production season negatively impacted crops in southern Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and northern and eastern Madagascar.

Moreover, there are growing concerns that the higher fertiliser prices have led to lower usage by farmers in these countries, which would ultimately undermine the yields.

Keep an eye on Kenya (African trade remains key for South African agribusiness)

The first glimpse of these countries’ crop conditions and import needs will be through maize production data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the coming months.

For Zimbabwe, production forecasts are yet to be made available. Still, Zimbabwe will require sizeable imports if the crop drops below the previous season’s harvest of 1,6 million tonnes, given its annual maize needs of 2,1 million tonnes.

The possible suppliers to Zimbabwe will be Zambia and South Africa. Zambia’s maize production forecasts are yet to be released. Still, there is an expected 15,6 million tonnes for South Africa, up 1% y/y, which should enable South Africa to export at least 3 million tonnes of maize in the 2023/24 marketing year.

Another country that is worth keeping an eye on is Kenya. The latest estimates from the USDA place Kenya’s 2023/24 marketing year maize imports at 750 000 tonnes.

This is up mildly from the previous season’s maize imports of 700 000 tonnes. The primary hope for Kenya is to import maize from Tanzania and Zambia, which collectively accounted for 98% of Kenya’s maize imports in the 2021/22 marketing year. South Africa has minimal participation in the Kenyan maize market because of the prohibitive anti-genetically modified crop regulations.

I have used maize as an example, but if maize crops faced production challenges, then one can assume that there are similar challenges in other crops and vegetables.

This means South African producers should closely monitor the African market and increase supplies where market conditions allow.

Beyond these near-term seasonal matters, the South African agribusiness community, as the major exporters of the produce from South African farms, along with the government officials, should maintain close engagement with counterparts across the rest of the African continent as this is not only a diplomatic consideration but also a commercial matter.

Wandile Sihlobo is Chief Economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber

African trade remains key for South African agribusiness

WhyAfrica provides on the ground information and business intelligence about the sustainable utilisation and extraction of natural resources in Africa, and can assist your company through:  

  1. Membership:
  • WhyAfrica’s membership offers great business insights to you, your company, and clients.
  • Amongst many other benefits, we will publish editorial content about you or your company on the WhyAfrica online platform and on all WhyAfrica’s social media pages – the annual fee is R5,500 and you can find out more or subscribe here: https://www.whyafrica.co.za/product/membership/ 
  1. Sponsorship:
  • WhyAfrica’s annual 45-day African Road Trip takes place in July and August. We will visit more than 30 project sites and this year we plan to visit the Limpopo Province of South Africa, Zimbabwe or Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Kenya. Sponsoring the Road Trip, or to be a WhyAfrica member, gives you unparalleled insight into the business environment of the countries that we travel to and the project sites we visit.
  • To be a member or sponsor allows you access to invaluable, on the ground, business intelligence and a great marketing opportunity for all companies doing business in Africa.
  • The main aim of our Road Trips is to promote Africa as an investment destination and to showcase Africa’s greatest companies, and projects to our large global audience, which includes a list of potential investors, venture capitalists and serial entrepreneurs.
  • To view the photos of last year’s Southern Africa Road Trip click on the gallery link or follow our Instagram account at why.africa https://www.whyafrica.co.za/road-trips/whyafrica-road-trips/. 
  1. Advertising:
  • We publish daily online articles on our WhyAfrica platform and post them on social media every day. Our combined online reach is more than 45,000. In-article banner ads are highly successful advertising tools as is advertising space on our website.
  • In addition to our bi-weekly newsletters, we publish two printed- and two interactive digital magazines per year. The printed magazines are distributed at major events and conferences throughout the year, and also on our WhyAfrica Road trips.
  • Digital magazines are e-mailed to all our subscribers and shared on our social media platforms. A copy of the latest edition is automatically attached to all our outgoing e-mails.
  • WhyAfrica magazines provide great marketing opportunities. There are also in-article and on-line advertising opportunities at exceptional rates. Contact me for more information on leon@whyafrica.co.za or give me a call.
  • To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletters and magazines click on the link and register: https://www.whyafrica.co.za/subscribe/  
  1. 4. Partnerships
  • Maximise your African exposure and link with our large business network through becoming one of only 10 WhyAfrica partners. We have only five prime partnership positions left for 2023, so contact me at leon@whyafrica.co.za before the end of March to get the best deal.

African trade remains key for South African agribusiness

Share Article


AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management