Maize farming and production business in Africa is a high-potential opportunity for the continent.
Maize (also known as ‘corn’ in some countries) is one of the most common and important food crops across Africa. It is widely eaten in various forms and more than 900 million Africans depend on maize every year because it is often cheaper than rice and wheat, two of the other most consumed cereals.
In fact, many of our daily diets contain maize either directly or indirectly. Production of meat, eggs and dairy products (like milk and yoghurt) would be difficult without maize, which is a hugely important ingredient in animal feed.
Although our continent produces over 50 million tons of maize every year, Africa still spends over $2 billion to import maize from abroad. As Africa’s population continues to grow, the demand and consumption of maize will increase rapidly over the coming years.
This article explores the lucrative market for maize within and outside Africa. You will also learn the secrets of this business including FREE manuals and materials to guide you.
Why is maize an interesting business opportunity?
Maize is a totally amazing crop. By planting just one seed of maize, you get over 500 kernels in return at harvest. That’s an incredible return on investment!
In fact, maize was made for developing regions like Africa. It utilises sunlight very effectively and Africa has sunlight in abundance. Maize can grow on a vast array of soils and can survive in different climatic conditions on our continent.
Maize also matures really fast. From the time it is planted, maize requires only between 90 to 120 days (about 4 months) to reach harvest. This allows it to survive in areas with short periods of rainfall and irregular water supplies.
One of the reasons maize is in high demand as a food crop is its high energy and nutritional value. It is rich in Vitamins A, C and E, several essential minerals, and contains up to 9 percent protein. It is also rich in dietary fibre and carbohydrates which are a good source of energy.
It is no surprise that in many parts of East Africa, maize accounts for an average of one third of the daily caloric intake.
Maize remains a key food crop in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Although it is primarily used as human food in developing regions of the world, maize is one of the most important raw materials for animal feed production and biofuels in developed countries. (photo credit: newscom.com)
Maize is also a versatile food product for Africans. It is processed and prepared in various forms depending on the country and culture.
Ground maize is prepared into porridge in Eastern and Southern Africa, while maize flour is prepared into porridge/pap in West Africa. Ground maize is also fried or baked in many countries.
In all parts of Africa, green (fresh) maize is boiled or roasted on its cob and served as a snack. Popcorn is also a popular snack derived from the maize crop.
Because of its huge strategic importance and versatile uses as human food, animal feed and a valuable industrial raw material, the production of maize is taken very seriously around the world.
According to IITA estimates, about 800 million tons of maize is produced worldwide every year. Africa produces 6.5 percent of this volume which is still insufficient for local consumption.
Nigeria remains Africa’s largest producer with nearly 8 million tons produced per annum. It is closely followed by South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The United States remains the world’s largest producer with 42 percent of all maize produced globally.
Who are the biggest buyers and consumers of maize in Africa?
Photo credit: capitalfm.co.ke
Maize is a food crop that is in high demand across Africa.
In this section, we shall look at the three major segments that make up the biggest demand for maize in Africa – human beings, animals and industries. We will now look at each of these segments to find out the reasons for their demand and the lucrative potentials of this demand.
Africans directly consume about 30 percent of all maize that is produced worldwide. Unlike in developed countries where a major portion of maize produced is used for animal feed, maize is a significant part of diets in Africa.
More maize is eaten per person in Africa than in any other part of the world. Lesotho has the highest consumption per capita of maize in the world (174kg/person). Eastern and Southern Africa use 85% of harvested maize as food, while Africa as a whole uses 95%, compared to other world regions that use most of their maize as animal feed.
Africa has one of the fastest growing populations in the world with an annual population growth rate of nearly 3 per cent over the last 20 years.
With the world’s highest birth rate, its current population of nearly one billion people is predicted to more than double in 40 years to 2.3 billion (source: McKinsey Research).
It is expected that the demand for maize as human food will grow in step with Africa’s population. The demand for more maize in the coming years is certain. Whether the increased volumes of maize will be produced locally or imported from outside the continent remains uncertain.
Animal Feed Producers
Maize is a favourite raw material for animal feed. It is cheaper than many of the other feed alternatives and provides the required nutritional content for livestock. As a result, over 60 percent of maize produced worldwide is used in feed production.
In Asia, and many of the developed countries, more maize is used in animal feed production than for human consumption. For example, the United States, the world’s largest producer of maize, uses over 80 percent of its maize harvest to produce animal feed.
As discussed in our animal feed production article, the growing production and demand for meat is having a strong effect on the demand for maize. In the future, less maize may be eaten directly and more will be consumed indirectly (through poultry, meat and dairy products).
Maize has quite a high starch content which makes it a high-demand industrial raw material.
The starch obtained from maize is processed into several additives, agents and ingredients such as dextrine, sorbitol, sorbic acid and lactic acid. You may not recognize these substances but they are used in many household items that you know and use such as: ink, cosmetics, paint, medicines, syrups, ice cream, shoe polish, fireworks batteries and glue.
Yes, all of these things contain starch.
Starch from maize is also heavily used to produce bioethanol, a form of renewable fuel used as an alternative to petrol (gasoline) to power cars, trucks and buses.
Ethanol is also used as a solvent in the manufacture of varnishes and perfumes; in the preparation of essences and flavorings; and in many medicines and drugs.
Photo credit: businessdailyafrica.com
Some of the biggest industrial buyers of maize are food producers and breweries. International food processing giants like Nestle and Kelloggs (just to mention a few) purchase a lot of maize to produce some of the famous cereal-based breakfast brands like Cornflakes.
Breweries also use maize as a major raw material for beer production. Africans consume millions of litres of beer every year and this volume is expected to rise significantly due to population growth and economic prosperity.
The more beer that is produced, the more maize that will be purchased by brewers across the continent to produce beer.
How to start and succeed in the maize production business
Compared to many other crops, maize is quite easy to produce. However, succeeding in the maize production business requires knowledge and skill.
Based on my research, we have identified some things entrepreneurs should consider and keep in mind if they plan to get involved in the maize business. Here they are:
Find suitable land
The first and most important thing you will need to get started with maize production is land.
Maize grows best in rich loamy or sandy-loam soils in a well-drained area that has a flat or fairly flat landscape. Maize will not do well in waterlogged land. If the land is not well drained, you could make ridges or mounds to protect the crops from waterlogging.
Because the maize plant loves sunlight, the land has to be in the open and free from any kind of shade (such as tall trees or man-made structures) that prevents sunlight from reaching the planted maize.
The land has to be cleared and tilled before the rainy season starts and the maize should be planted immediately after the land is prepared. If this is not done, weeds may grow fast and compete with the maize for nutrients and sunlight.
Use the right varieties
There are different varieties of maize in the world today and the type you choose to produce will depend on consumer preferences and market demand in your area.
In some localities, white corn is more popular than the yellow variety. In some other areas, it is vice-versa. However, the best maize varieties grow fast, are high yielding, mature earlier than the local varieties and are resistant to major pests and diseases.
There are now some hybrid varieties that use much less water and can often survive in drought-prone areas.
Maize farmer in Kenya / Photo credit: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture; Flickr
There are also late-maturing and early-maturing varieties of maize.
Late-maturing varieties mature in 110-120 days and are good for zones with a long rainy season.
Early-maturing varieties mature in 90-100 days and can be planted after a late-maturing variety in zones with two seasons of rainfall.
There are also extra-early varieties which mature in 80-90 days. These can be planted in zones with very short rainy season (usually 2-3 months long).
When and how to plant maize
Time was when rainfall patterns in my village were predictable. I guess climate change is ‘changing’ everything nowadays.
There are now no specific dates to plant maize. Depending on your region, you could follow the previous history of rains in the area. However, it’s best to plant after it has rained consecutively for 2 to 3 times.
Planting only when the rains have come will help the maize seeds to germinate and grow well.
Some maize varieties need between 450 to 600 mm of water per season to grow, most of which it gets from moisture reserves in the soil.
According to research, at maturity, it is estimated that each maize plant will have consumed about 250 litres of water.
It is also very important that you pay very close attention to the health of the maize seeds you plant. You should only buy maize seeds for planting from dependable sources.
For best results, avoid buying maize seeds from the local or open market near you. These seeds could be rotten or already contaminated by disease which will likely affect its growth performance.
I have included a manual in the resources section (at the end of this article) that contains specific information on how to treat maize seeds before planting.
Watch out for weeds, pests and diseases!
There are several types of weeds, pests and diseases that affect maize plants such as stem borers, army worms, grasshoppers, larger grain borers, downy mildew, maize streak virus and Striga among others.
Fortunately, there are several herbicides, pesticides and disease control methods you can apply to prevent a breakout on your farm. The manual in the next section contains useful information about these methods and how you can apply them.
Harvest: what can you expect?
The amount of maize that can be harvested (per hectare) depends on the variety you planted, amount of rainfall, sunshine and the level of weed, pest and disease control management that was applied.
Although Africa has some of the lowest maize yields in the world, it is not uncommon to expect between 2,000 to 4,000 kilograms per hectare.
Resources & Learning materials
Here are a few interesting resources and learning materials that will give you a headstart if you’re seriously considering maize farming and production business in Africa.
- How to Grow a Good Maize Crop is a simply-written and easy to understand handbook developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). The handbook is very well written. It covers everything from site selection, land preparation, seed selection and treatment, fertilizer treatment, storage of grains and several other important topics.
- Maize Production Manual is another interesting and detailed handbook from South Africa’s Department of Agriculture. It’s a well-written manual and full of great information for beginners. It also contains detailed information.
Maize farming and production business is worth a try…
I’m currently working on a cassava farm project and plan to intercrop my cassava with some maize. The rains have just started in my area (Lagos, Nigeria) but are not yet steady.
I plan to start planting the maize by early April when the rains will be steady. I also plan to source for treated maize seeds through an agriculture inputs company.
I’m excited about the results and look forward to sharing them with you. Since it’s supposed to take just four months before the harvest, I’ll surely let you know how it goes; good or bad.
As usual, I believe that the opportunity and information I have shared with you in this article can be taken further by your creativity and energy. You could also look at many more interesting and lucrative business ideas in the Business ideas section of this website.
What do you think about this business opportunity?
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To your success!
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