Measuring Maize in South Africa: The Shifting Structure of Production During the Twentieth Century, 1904–2015

Jan C. Greyling, Philip G. Pardey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Using a new compilation of agricultural data, we find that South Africa increased its total maize production from 328,000 tons in 1904 to 1.68 million tons in 1935, and 12.2 million tons centred on 2015. This 6.1-fold increase in overall maize production since 1935 occurred against a 35.7 per cent reduction in the area planted, made possible by an 8.6-fold increase in average maize yields. While commercial farmers now produce 94.6 per cent of the country’s maize crop (on 87.5 per cent of the maize area), that was not always the case. In 1942 smallholder farmers—operating within the former homeland areas and outside those areas—accounted for 20.6 per cent of production and 40.6 per cent of the planted area. The location of production also changed. While the Free State remains the dominant producer with 38.8 per cent of output and 42.7 per cent of planted area in 2015, other regions have gained considerable ground (e.g., Mpumalanga, which now accounts for 23.5 per cent of production, and the Northern Cape, 6.4 per cent). Other provinces have ceded ground (e.g., the North West accounted for 28.5 per cent of production in 1994, down to 17.3 per cent in 2015). We also quantify the shifting shares of white versus yellow maize. Although white maize is still a significant share of overall production (49.6 per cent in 2015), yellow maize is growing at a faster pace as both the area planted to yellow maize and the yield growth thereof has outpaced that of white maize.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-41
Number of pages21
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In conducting this study the authors benefited immensely from detailed discussions with, and data advice from, our close friend and long-time professional colleague Frikkie Liebenberg, who was taken from us prematurely by a senseless act of violence. They would also like to thank Senait Senay for her helpful and collegial research support. In addition, they would also like to thank Me. Rona Beukes at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for her support. For the financial and other support used to conduct the research reported in this paper, the authors would like to thank Stellenbosch University, the International Science and Technology Practice and Policy (InSTePP) Center at the University of Minnesota and CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), Mexico.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa.


  • South Africa
  • maize
  • smallholder and commercial farmers
  • twentieth century


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