South Africa’s corn crop looks headed for a bumper harvest for a fourth year in a row after overcoming the season’s early wet start.
A solid corn crop for the country would be good news across southern Africa since South Africa is the continent’s largest corn producer and one of its major grain exporters. Neighboring countries, including Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique, often rely upon South African white corn imports to feed their people.
Corn, which is harvested from late May, represents 90% of South Africa’s total grain production.
Gro’s Food Security Tracker for Africa currently projects 2023/24 South Africa corn production could be greater than last year driven by strong yields, allowing the country to maintain its status as a net exporter of corn.
The Gro Food Security Tracker, which was built with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, leverages Gro’s platform and machine learning-based models to show real-time data and projections for the supply, demand, and price of major crops for 49 African countries.
In South Africa, successive years of rainier-than-usual growing seasons, brought on by La Niña conditions, have helped produce strong corn harvests. La Niña’s departure in early March, and a greater than 60% possibility of El Niño conditions setting in by the August-October period, could bring an end to South Africa’s string of bumper corn crops.
El Niño conditions in the past tended to depress South Africa's corn production, including in 2015 and 2016, when harvests were down 18% and 33%, respectively, from the preceding five-year average.
Abundant rainfall this growing season has helped to lift NDVI, a measure of vegetative health, to its highest readings in 20 years, as shown by Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture, weighted for South Africa’s corn growing areas. Widespread and above-average rains in November and December boosted crop plantings and provided favorable growing conditions.
South Africa grows both yellow corn, used mainly for animal feed, and white corn, a food staple. Much of South Africa’s yellow corn is exported to Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, and South Korea.