Maize, also known as “corn”, is one of the most common and important food crops in South Africa. It is both the staple food for the majority of the South African population and the major feed grain.
Maize farming is important for the South African economy because it is the bread and butter of thousands of commercial and small-scale farmers. Most of the maize produced in South Africa is consumed locally. Maize farming in South Africa has been one of the occupations of most indigenous people in Southern part of Africa. The South African maize industry was deregulated in 1997 and is operating in a free-market environment. This means that producers may sell to whomever they wish and prices are determined by supply and demand. The Mpumalanga and North West provinces being the largest producers. The maize industry is also an important earner of foreign exchange for the country through exports of maize and maize products. The South Africa exports maize mainly to Japan, Iran, Kenya, and Venezuela.
Although maize farming requires knowledge and skill, maize is quite easy to produce compared to many other crops. The first and most important consideration in maize farming is the land. Maize grows best in rich loamy or sandy-loam soils in a well-drained area that has a flat or fairly flat landscape. The land has to be in the open and free from any kind of shade because the maize plant needs sunlight. Maize farming in South Africa is done from the month of October up to December when enough rain had fallen to let the seeds of maize to germinate. Planting only when the rains have come will help the maize seeds to germinate and grow well. It is estimated that each maize plant will have consumed about 250 liters of water.
What makes maize ideal for farming is that fact that maize matures really fast. Maize requires only between 90 to 120 days or about 4 months to reach harvest. Because of this, maize can survive in areas with short periods of rainfall and irregular water supplies.
Maize as Food
Many of our food contains maize either directly or indirectly. The production of meat, eggs, and dairy products would be impossible without maize because maize is an important ingredient in animal feed. In addition, statistics show that Africans directly consume about 30 percent of all maize that is produced worldwide. It means that more maize is eaten per person in Africa than in any other part of the world. Southern Africa uses about 85% of harvested maize as food. Maize is also high in energy and nutritional value. It is rich in dietary fiber and carbohydrates which are a good source of energy. It is rich in Vitamins A, C and E, other essential minerals, and contains up to 9 percent protein.
Maize for Animal Feed Producers
Although it is primarily used as human food, maize is one of an essential ingredient for animal feed production. Maize is an important and favorite raw material for animal feed production because it is cheaper than many of the other feed alternatives. It also provides the required nutritional content for livestock. It is estimated that over 60 percent of maize produced worldwide is used in feed production. Hence, the growing production and demand for meat are having a strong effect on the demand for maize.
Maize for Industrial Consumers
Maize is a high-demand industrial raw material because of its high starch content. The starch which can be obtained from maize is processed into several ingredients, additives, and agents such as lactic acid, dextrin, sorbic acid, and sorbitol. These agents, in turn, are used in many household items such as paint, ink, shoe polish, glue medicines, cosmetics, syrups, and even ice cream.
Some of the known biggest industrial buyers of maize are food producers and breweries. Breweries also use maize as a major raw material for beer production. The more beer that is produced, the more maize that will be purchased by brewers across the continent to produce beer.