South African agricultural trade surplus increases

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In the first quarter of 2024, South Africa’s agricultural trade surplus increased by 20% year-on-year. The collaboration between Transnet, organised businesses and agriculture sector stakeholders to improve efficiency at South African ports must continue. Efficient logistics are the lifeblood of South African agriculture and other exporting sectors of the economy.

Admittedly, the deciduous fruit industry faced numerous challenges at the port of Cape Town at the start of this year related to delays that proved costly to farming businesses.

Still, continuous collaboration to ensure improvements is the only viable path forward. We are already seeing the benefits of the improvements in the agricultural sector through the rise in the value of exports. The products leading the export list were grapes, apples and pears, maize, wine, apricots, sugar, wool, fruit juices, peaches and apricots, among other products.

From a regional perspective, the African continent maintained the lion’s share of South Africa’s agricultural exports, accounting for 42%. The products leading the exports list in the African continent were maize, cereal meals and pellets, sugar, prepared foods, apples and pears, fruit juices, wheat, ciders and other fermented beverages, and soya bean oil, among other products.

Read more about the deceleration of SA consumer food inflation here.

Export markets

The European Union (EU) regained its position as South Africa’s second-largest agricultural market, overtaking Asia with a share of 22%. Grapes, apricots, peaches, cherries, plums, wine, apples and pears, dates, figs, avocados, guavas, mangos, wool and fruit juices were the primary products that South Africa exported to the EU in the first quarter of this year.

As a collective, Asia and the Middle East were the third largest agricultural markets in South Africa, accounting for 19% of the share. The exports to this region were mainly apples and pears, grapes, wool, sugar, beef, citrus, apricots, cherries and peaches, mutton and lamb and soya beans. The Americas region accounted for 6% of South Africa’s agricultural exports in the year’s first quarter. The main exported

products include grapes, wine, fruit juices, apples and pears, nuts, apricots and cherries. The rest of the world, including the United Kingdom, accounted for the remaining 10% of the exports.


However, South Africa does not engage in one-way trade – the country imports various agricultural products. The major products South Africa imported in the first quarter are similar to what the country imports yearly. These are wheat, rice, palm oil, poultry products and whiskies, among other products.

South Africa lacks favourable climatic conditions to grow rice and palm oil and thus relies on imports of these products. In the case of wheat, South Africa imports nearly half of the annual consumption because of unfavourable climatic conditions to expand domestic wheat production beyond the regions that South Africa already cultivates for winter wheat.

In the Free State province, which used to be amongst the major wheat-growing regions of the country, production has declined notably over time because of the unfavourable weather conditions and profitability challenges of wheat relative to other crops. Meanwhile, imports are around 20% of the annual domestic consumption of poultry.

Subsequently, when we account for the exports and the imports, South Africa’s agriculture recorded a trade surplus of US$1,4 Billion. This is up by 20% from the first quarter of 2023. The sharp increase resulted from the decline in imports, while the exports lifted slightly. – Agbiz