Nigeria is poised to overtake South Africa and become the largest maize producer in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in the 2018/19 production season, according to Wandile Sihlobo, an agricultural economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) of SA.
Last year South Africa's contribution to SSA maize production was nearly 20% of the total production in the region for the 2017/18 season.
"SA produced nearly 20% of SSA maize production utilising a relatively small area of 2.6 million hectares. In contrast, countries such as Nigeria planted 6.5 million hectares in the 2017/18 production season, but only harvested 14% of sub-Saharan Africa's maize," Sihlobo said in the latest Agbiz newsletter.
The maize production prominence in SA can be attributed to technological advancement, particularly the use of genetically modified (GM) crops, which was adopted in the early 2000s. This has had great benefits in terms of yields and savings on inputs cost, explains Sihlobo.
But this year's drought in the western parts of SA has resulted in a change in sub-Saharan maize production distributions.
The most recent data from the International Grains Council placed Nigeria's 2018/19 maize production estimate at 11.0 million tonnes, which equates to a 16.1% share of SSA's maize harvest.
Meanwhile, South Africa's 2018/19 preliminary maize production estimate varies between 10.4 and 10.7 million tonnes.
Sihlobo points out, however, that Nigeria's dominance in maize production will likely be short-lived as its yields have not improved.
Nigeria's 2018/19 maize yield is about 1.6 tonnes per hectare, while South Africa's average yield estimate is 4.6 tonnes per hectare, according to Agbiz, and International Grains Council estimates.