South Africa, the continent’s largest producer of maize, could be a net importer for the first time in seven years this season as a drought cut production, the biggest grain farmers’ lobby said.
The nation may import 766,000 metric tons of maize in the year to the end of April, comprising 716,000 tons of the yellow variety used locally for animal feed and 50,000 tons of white that’s used to make a staple food, Grain SA said in an e-mailed statement.
The country started imports for the first time in 11 months in March as the worst drought since 1992 damaged the harvest in the main growing provinces of the Free State and North West, which together made up 64% of the nation’s crop in 2014. South Africa is the world’s biggest producer of white maize after Mexico and the limited availability of this variety globally makes importing it difficult.
“There are not enough white-maize supplies in the world market,” Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at Grain SA, said in the report. “There are large supplies of yellow maize in the world market, but South Africa can only import from certain countries, such as the South American and Black Sea countries due to genetically modified organism registrations.”
Imports of maize last exceeded exports in the 2007-08 season, when the country sold 469,059 tons and bought 1.12 million tons, data on the Pretoria-based South African Grain Information Service’s website showed.
The nation imported 63 tons of white maize from Zambia last week, taking the total bought from its neighbour this season to 163 tons, Sagis data showed. It has imported 79,850 tons of the yellow variety from Argentina since April. Local prices of white maize have risen 40% this year after declining 24% 12 months earlier. The price of the yellow variety, used mainly as animal feed, has risen 26% in 2015.
Despite the limited availability of white maize globally, “there is no immediate need in the country as the harvest process is still ongoing,” Sihlobo said. South Africa could purchase more from Zambia, or buy from Mexico, the US and Malawi, he said.
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