Regular readers of this blog will know that this is one of those posts that I update every month when new data comes out. This time around, however, I will make a few points on wheat production.

In May 2018, South Africa produced 187 million loaves of bread, up by 4 percent from the previous month.

Our bread basket is comprised mainly of brown, white, and whole wheat bread. But, brown and white bread are the most dominant, with a combined share of 98 percent of all commercial pan baked bread produced in the country.

Brown bread commands 50 percent of South Africa’s bread production. White bread makes up 49 percent and the rest is whole wheat and other types of bread. The overall number of loaves reaching our plates is expected to increase over the foreseeable future. But, who will be the key suppliers of wheat?

Wheat plantings in South Africa have been steadily decreasing over the years.  Between the 1994/95 production season and the 2017/18 production season, South Africa’s winter wheat plantings declined by 53 percent to 491 600 hectares.

This decline could partially be attributed to the effects of climate change, which has resulted in many farmers, particularly in the Free State province, opting out of high-risk wheat production to other crops and farming activities.

As a result of this decline in production, coupled with growing domestic consumption, wheat imports have increased significantly. In the 2017/18 marketing year, which ends in September, South Africa’s wheat imports are estimated at 1.9 million tonnes, up from 681 559 in the 1994/95 season. So far, 84 percent of this has already been imported. The leading suppliers were Russia (35% share – largest supplier thus far), Germany, Lithuania, Argentina, Latvia, Romania, Ukraine, the United States and Poland.

Clearly, in the short to medium term – South Africa will remain dependent on wheat imports. I’ve previously discussed the dryland wheat production expansion currently underway in the Eastern Cape province, but it will not be sufficient to solve South Africa’s issue of declining wheat production. Perhaps, I should discuss this in more detail in the next couple of days.

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