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


  • Jan C. Greyling
  • Philip G. Pardey


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Jan C. Greyling & Philip G. Pardey, 2019. "Measuring Maize in South Africa: The Shifting Structure of Production During the Twentieth Century, 1904–2015," Agrekon, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 58(1), pages 21-41, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:ragrxx:v:58:y:2019:i:1:p:21-41
    DOI: 10.1080/03031853.2018.1523017

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    Cited by:

    1. Daniel de Kadt & Johan Fourie & Jan Greyling & Elie Murard & Johannes Norling, 2020. "The causes and consequences of the 1918 influenza in South Africa," Working Papers 12/2020, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.

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