Forestry and Agriculture


The Bushveld is cattle country. Controlled hunting is often combined with ranching. The main breeds in the region are the Afrikaner, Hereford and Brahman. Other breeds are the Santa Gertrudis, Shorthorn and Simmenthaler.

Professor Bonsma developed a crossbreed at Mara research station near Louis Trichardt. He crossbred the Afrikaner with the Hereford and Shorthorn and by selective breeding he developed a breed that is particularly suitable for the Bushveld region named the Bonsmara.

Cash crops

Cash crops such as sunflowers, cotton, maize and peanuts are cultivated in most of the province under dry land conditions and under irrigation, the Belabela (Warmbaths)-Modimolle (Nylstroom) area as particularly known for dry land cropping. Modimolle (Nylstroom) is also known for its table grape crops.

Tropical Fruit

Tropical fruit, such as bananas, pineapples, litchis, mangoes, papaw and a variety of nuts are grown in the Tzaneen and Louis Trichardt areas.


Bananas belong to the genus Musa, and are thought to have originated in prehistoric times

from wild bananas, which grow from India to New Guinea. Although it is often referred to as a tree, the banana, which can grow to a height of 9m, is really a giant herb with a trunk or pseudostem composed of overlapping leaf stems.

Climatic Requirements

The banana, having originated in the humid tropics, has high heat and moisture requirements.

In the subtropical areas of South Africa, banana production is severely limited by climate, as ideal conditions simply do not exist. Rainfall is generally inadequate, although this can be remedied by supplementary irrigation. More important is the fact that in midwinter air temperatures in banana areas tend to drop nearly every night to values between 12 and 5°C, and sometimes even lower.

The major banana-growing areas of the world are geographically situated between the equator and latitudes 20°N and 20°S. The banana growing areas of South Africa, however, are situated between 24° and 31 °S and conditions here are characteristically subtropical. The main difference between our local subtropical climates and climates of tropical areas are the wide fluctuations in day and night temperatures and the extremes experienced in the subtropics during both winter and summer.

Morphology of the Banana

The banana differs considerably from the majority of horticultural plants. The plant is an herbaceous perennial – “herbaceous” because after fruiting the aerial parts die down to the ground- “perennial” because new suckers grow up from the base of the plant to replace aerial parts, which have died.

Rhizome – the true stem of the plant is an underground organ known technically as a tuberous rhizome.

Roots – the thick, fleshy main roots branch into hair roots, which absorb water and nutrients.

Leaves – as the leaves grow their leaf stalks elongate and remain tightly arranged above the corm, and form the “trunk” or pseudostem of the plant.

Flowers – develop in a series of double rows (“hands”), which are arranged spirally around the

fruit stalk. The number of female flowers initiated in the pseudostem determines the number of hands of bananas in the bunch. The cooler the climate at initiation the fewer the hands that are initiated and vice versa.

Suckers – after fruiting, the aerial portions of a banana plant (leaves, pseudostem and fruit stalk), die down if they have not been cut down at harvest time. The plant propagates itself by producing suckers around the rhizome at the base of the plant.

Physical & Chemical Requirements of Soil

Bananas may be cultivated on soils ranging from fairly sandy to heavy clay soils. For the best results the soil ph measured in water, should preferably be between 5,8 and 6,5. If the soil is too acid, dolomitic or calcitic agricultural lime, depending on the magnesium content of the soil, should be worked in deeply and in good time before planting. Since potassium and magnesium are two very important nutrients for the banana plant, it is essential that soils should contain ample quantities of these two elements.

The Ripening of Bananas

For best commercial results the banana needs to be ripened artificially. All fruit need ethylene gas to ripen, and the different fruits produce different quantities of this gas. Bananas produce comparatively little ethylene gas, except at a particular stage, when the so-called “ethylene explosion” takes place and the fruit ripen.

In the past bananas were ripened by storing the fruit in a room together with granadillas or mangoes. The latter two fruits produce more ethylene gas and consequently the bananas ripened fairly well. Of the other methods of producing this gas, the best known is the calcium carbide and water. Although fairly effective and cheap, this method was not without problems. The numerous ripening chambers that exploded proved how dangerous this gas is when there is a flame anywhere in the vicinity.

Currently, ethylene gas that is offered for sale in cylinders is another ripening method used.

Cultivation under unfavourable weather conditions Polyethylene bunch covers are used to accelerate the rate of bunch development and especially to obtain even development, young fruit during winter. But the blue polyethylene bags have other advantages. Frost, hail, drought and wind are natural enemies of bananas. These covers protect the fruit from leaf scarring; insect and bird damage and also from light hail. However, a drawback of bunch covers is that a very suitable microclimate is created for pests such as thrips and mites, which can cause problems.

Harvesting and Packing of Bananas

Although bananas are lot exported, the destination of the crop (domestically) and prevailing atmospheric temperatures will determine the stage of development at which the bunches must be harvested. For example, cold weather will require a more mature stage of harvesting while the three-quarters stage will be adequate for the hot summer months. During transport and handling, banana bunches should not be exposed to the sun for any length of time since sunburn can cause considerable damage. To prevent fungus growth, known as collar rot, during transport and ripening, the hands must be treated with a fungicide before packing.

Marketing of Bananas

Banana production occurs in South Africa in two main areas: the magisterial districts of Barberton, Belfast, Carolina, Letaba, Lydenburg, Nelspruit, Pilgrim’s Rest, Polokwane (Pietersburg), White River and Zoutpansberg.

Magisterial districts of Eshowe, Lower Umfolozi, Lower Tugela, Mtunzini, Port Shepstone and Umzinto in Kwa ZuluNatal.

Approximately 52% of the entire crop is marketed in the Gauteng area.

Banana Cultivars

Williams – most striking feature is plant height Dwarf Cavendish – most tolerant of subtropical climate Chinese Cavendish

Cavendish Grand Nain Valery

Avocado Farming


The fruit of the avocado tree (Persea americana) is sometimes called avocado pear or alligator pear, although the plant belongs to the laurel family and is unrelated to the pear. It is indigenous to Central America. The avocado is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree, which varies in shape: it may be tall and. upright or low and spreading. Many of the high-quality grafted trees available in nurseries are spreading varieties, which generally grow to a height of about 5m, with a spread of 1 Om. These varieties include ‘Fuerte’ and ‘Hass’, both with good sized fruit.

A small amount of fruit can be expected on grafted trees 3 years after planting; thereafter the yields are likely to become heavier each year.

Experience is necessary to determine the picking date as the fruit will not ripen until picked, (between May and July in South Africa, while fruit that is available in summer is usually imported from Israel). In some varieties the fruit changes from green to purple, while others turn a dull green when they are fully ripe.

The avocado is a warm climate fruit. It is very susceptible to damage by frost when young, but able to tolerate light frost when mature. The trees need bees to pollinate them and the flowers are only on the trees for a very short period of time. Pollination must take place in this period; wind is the biggest enemy of pollination as the flowers can be knocked off the trees very easily.


West Indian

As the name implies, these avocados originated in the humid, tropical low-lands of Central America at a latitude of about 10° north. They can therefore be expected to be best adapted to continuous warm, humid conditions, with a high summer rainfall. All avocado cultivars are, however, known to be extremely sensitive to drought stress. West Indian cultivars do not tolerate frost well. Most West Indian avocado trees in South Africa are seedlings of variable quality, and have only a limited economic importance. They are grown mainly in the hot, humid Natal coastal belt, which is unsuitable for the other avocado varieties.


This variety originated in the cool, subtropical highland forests of Mexico; consequently their temperature requirements are lower than those of the West Indian types. The variety can withstand lower temperatures and a lower humidity than the West Indian variety. Zutano, Duke, Bacon, Alboyce, Carton and Teague are all known Mexican cultivars, but are not of economic importance in South Africa as fresh fruit producers. However, Zutano and Duke are important rootstocks.


The Guatemalan varieties originate from the tropical highlands of Guatemala. It therefore requires a cool, tropical climate without any extremes of temperature or humidity. The optimum temperature for growth has been shown to be between 20 and 24°C for the cultivars Edranol and Hass.


The Fuerte cultivar, which is the most popular grown cultivar in South Africa, is thought to be a natural hybrid between the Mexican and Guatemalan varieties. Yet the Fuerte cultivar is more sensitive than others to climatic conditions during flowering as hot dry conditions are liable to result in low yields, because of fruit and flower drop.

Climatic requirements

Apart from the West Indian types, which prefer warmer conditions, the climatic requirements of the cultivars commonly planted in South Africa can be summarised as follows:

Temperature – cool subtropical conditions with a mean daily temperature.of 20° to 24°C. Light frost can be tolerated except during flowering and fruit set (August and September). For Fuerte, the daily mean during flowering should preferably be above 18,5° but definitely above 13°C.

Humidity – A high humidity has been shown to be desirable, as decreased stress (particularly high temperature) conditions are especially important during flowering and fruit set. The mist belt areas of South Africa are especially suitable in this regard Rainfall – All avocado cultivars grown commercially in South Africa are known to be sensitive to water stress. A rainfall exceeding 1 OOOmm/a is desirable, and it should be well distributed with a dry period only in June and July.

Wind and Hail – Avocados tend to have brittle branches, so that high wind is liable to cause severe damage. Apart from this, the majority of blemishes causing a downgrading of fruit most probably result from hail.

In conclusion, the best avocado areas (other than for West Indian types), from a climatological view are the cool subtropical areas of the Transvaal and Natal at an altitude of 825m mist is common.

South African avocados are consumed locally as well as exported, mainly to Europe.

Kiwi Fruit

Kiwi fruit was introduced into the Ofcalaco area and grown with success. It is now a major industry.

Macadamia nuts

They are grown in the region particularly around Louis Trichardt. The nut has a very hard shell, which must be broken with special tools before it can be eaten.


In the major coffee growing areas of the world, a continual research programme is maintained to develop and improve the local coffee cultivars. In the Republic, however, young coffee industry has had to rely largely on cultivars from overseas. It is perhaps fortuitous that these cultivars have, until now proved so successful.

Sturdy coffee trees may be found growing in farmyards, along the Natal Coast and occasionally inland in the Transvaal Lowveld. The origin of these “back garden” coffee trees is obscure, but some are possibly the remnants of the original “Bourbon”-type – introduction of which dates back to the middle of the last century.

Certain varieties perform well at low and middle coffee zones of the Natal coast, up to a height of 500m. In the Magoebaskloof area of Tzaneen at a height of 1460m, the famous Blue Mountain is the variety of choice.

Coffee Processing

The processing of the ripe harvested berry until the final product, is called green market coffee. The final product is the dry bean, which is ready to be roasted.

The ripe, red harvested berries are put through a simple machine, which consists of a drum or a disc, which has an embossed surface. Between the inlet and outlet there is a surface just smaller than the thickness of the berry. The berries are fed into the turning dices and pulped. In doing this, the pulp is removed without damaging the two beans inside the berry. To obtain an easy regular flow the berries are fed with water into the machine. The pulp falls out underneath while the beans and water are caught up in a half drum. The dull beans float on the water while the heavy ones sink and are caught up in a sieve at the bottom. After this the slimy beans are kept 24 to 48 hours in a fermenting tank. The slime around the beans ferments and is then easily washed off with water and a broom in a channel. The washed beans are first dried in the shade for a few days and then in the sun. The drying process is done on a sieve or on a cement floor. Drying takes about two to three weeks. The dried beans then still have a husk. This can be taken off with a machine, which works on the same principle as the machine that removes the pulp, but without water. Where a large amount of coffee is processed, the abovementioned machines are driven by an electric motor. Small manual models are usually good enough to process the yield obtained from 20 ha.


Extensive tea and coffee plantations create employment opportunities in the Tzaneen area. Tea growing began in Magoebaskloof in the 1963, when Douglas Penhill, a Kenyan tea planter, settled in the area. With the help of the government, he started the Sapekoe Tea Estates (‘pekoe’ is Chinese for tea) and the area has been producing excellent quality tea ever since. The picking season is from September to May.

Tea is an evergreen plant of the Camellia family and is known as Camellia sinensis.Sinensis’ is the Latin for Chinese as its brewing qualities were first discovered in China 5000 years ago. Its name comes from the Chinese ‘Te’ pronounced ‘Tay’. Left to grow wild, it grows into a tree reaching a height of about 1 Om. Under cultivation however, tea is kept at shrub height for easy plucking of the top two leaves and the bud from each shoot.

There are more than 1500 teas from which to choose, although many are not available in South Africa, as there is little demand. The Assam type tea from which black tea is made grows in South Africa along the rain drenched Drakensberg escarpment from Thohoyandou in the north to the Transkei in the south.

Most of the popular brands of tea purchased in the local supermarket are a blend of teas from South Africa and other parts of the tea-growing world – mainly from Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Kenya, India, Indonesia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. China is a major producer of tea but because the end product is mainly ‘green’ tea, little finds its way to South Africa.

The difference between Black, Oolong and Green Tea. These three main types of tea are all made from different varieties of the Camellia sinensis plant, and are processed differently. In all cases, only the top two leaves and the bud are used in quality teas. Low cost poor quality blends, however, are likely to include bits of stalk as well.

Black Tea. After plucking, the tea leaves are spread out on shallow trays or troughs and left to wither, after which the leaves are either rolled to break the leaf veins or cut, torn and curled by special machinery. The green broken leaf is then subjected to forced aeration along a moving bed until it ‘ferments’ into a rusty brown. When this point is reached, the tea is fed through a warm air chamber where the moisture is extracted – the tea emerging the familiar deep brown/black colour.

Oolong Tea. To create Oolong tea, leaves are rolled and exposed to a non-aerated fermentation process for a shorter time.

Green Tea. Most popular among the Chinese and admired for its delicate flavour, the plucked leaf is spread out on trays and allowed to wither. It is then simultaneously rolled out and steam-heated without undergoing any fermentation and finally dried into small grey-green pellets of tea.

Brands of Tea: Most brands contain a number of different teas blended together in order to consistently meet the taste consumer’s associate with a particular brand. To do this, the blender will use as many as twenty teas including a variety of grades.

Some of the teas used in a blend are seasonal. During the year or plucking season, weather conditions will vary the quality of any of the teas used. The blender must take this into account by adjusting his ‘recipe’ so as to introduce a consistent flavour and characteristic.

The blender of teas is as rare and skilled a craftsman as any wine taster. He will taste between 200 and 1000 teas a day and will be constantly adjusting the recipe for each of the brands for which he is responsible.

Leaf Grades: Processed black tea is graded according to leaf particles. The two main grades, Leaf Grade and Broken Grade are subdivided into further categories. Fannings and dust Grades are the smallest particles.

Flavoured Teas: Flavoured variations are simply real tea (Camellia sinensis) to which has been added fruit, spices or herbs. You may come across teas to which mango, apple, lemon, or blackcurrant have been added. Tea can also be treated with a natural fruit juice or essential oils.


Zebediela, one of the largest citrus farms in the country, is situated south of Polokwane (Pietersburg). According to the records the sweetest oranges are found at Tom Burke.

Tomato Production

The largest tomato farm in the country lies between Tzaneen and Louis Trichardt at Mooketsi.


Many of the rural people practice subsistence agriculture.


The Limpopo Province has extensive forestry plantations in the Louis Trichardt and Tzaneen districts. Plantations of hardwoods for furniture manufacturing have also been established.

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