Agriculture: South Africa posts record exports

Despite a sluggish global economy linked to the coronavirus pandemic, South Africa’s agricultural exports reached a record level in 2020.

In its latest weekly note published on February 15, Agbiz, the South African Chamber of Agricultural Enterprises, reported that the value of agricultural goods shipped internationally reached $10.2 billion in 2020; a figure up 3 percent from the previous year but which is above all the second highest level in the country’s history after the historical performance posted in 2018 ($10.7 billion). In order of value, the main products exported were citrus fruits, grapes, wine, apples, pears, corn, nuts, sugar, wool and fruit juices. As for the export destinations, they are first and foremost the African continent (38% of total exports) and Europe (27%), with Asia following just behind (25%).

To explain these excellent results, in addition to favorable weather conditions, Agbiz argues that the decision of the country’s authorities to spare a large part of the agribusiness operations from the restrictions imposed during the containment undoubtedly worked in the sector’s favor. The organization also points out that the relative weakness of the rand has strengthened the competitiveness of South African products on the world market, while making agricultural imports less attractive, falling by 8 percent to $5.9 billion. As a result, the surplus in the agricultural trade balance rose to $4.3 billion, the highest level ever achieved by the rainbow nation.

Figures that confirm, if need be, the country’s position as Africa’s leading agricultural power. South Africa is the world’s 9th largest producer of maize and ranks 7th in the world for wine production. It also has the 10th largest sheep population in the world (25 million head), raised mainly for wool (karakul, merino) as well as a cattle population of over 14 million head. The only black spot is the nagging question of land distribution among racial communities: 30 years after the end of Apartheid, much of the country’s most productive land still belongs to white farmers, who control 73% of the arable land.