One interesting remark from someone on Twitter following my blogpost about South Africa’s sorghum production was that the crop is of African origin, but is now being displaced by other crops such as maize, which originated elsewhere. While this is factual, maize also has a long and rich history on the African continent that dates back to the 16th century which I will share with you.
Maize was domesticated in central Mexico around 1500 BC. It was then brought to the African continent around 1500 AD where it quickly spread to all corners of the continent in a relatively short period of 500 years. It is now Africa’s most important grain crop.
In South Africa, maize was first introduced in 1655, and has since become one of dominant food crops.
Maize is produced in all the provinces of South Africa, but the most significant producing regions are the Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the North-West provinces. On average, between 2.5 and 2.8 million hectares of commercial maize are planted in the country each year.
Maize managed to surpass sorghum and other small grains in dominance in Africa because maize is higher yielding and less labour intensive. However, the small grains still have their place in African agriculture, especially because they are generally more nutritious and more drought tolerant.