With record lows for local maize production anticipated as a result of the drought, South Africa is ready to import the up to 6 million tons of maize it needs to supplement the dwindling local yield this year.
The department of agriculture has said all the infrastructure was in place for the hefty volume of maize to arrive this year. The department’s spokesperson, Unathi Fumba, said the country would expect to receive 100 000 tons of maize per month over a 14-month period.
Imports are expected from the US, Argentina, Brazil, Turkey and the Black Sea region. “The bulk of the imports will be between September 2016 and April 2017.” Grain South Africa CEO Jannie de Villiers believed the imports would not come a moment too soon. “
If the crop reduces further, which is very likely because of a lack of rain in February and the first half of March, the challenge will be bigger and could become too big to handle.”
His early predictions have indicated that without the imports, the country would run out of grain by September. “The record for 2014 was 14.3 million tons. The current consumption is 10.5 million tons.”
The preliminary production forecast published by the national crop estimates committee on January 27 estimated maize production at 7.438 million tons, which, while slightly higher than the market expectation of between 5.5 and 6.5 million tons, would not be nearly enough.
Although the imports seem to spell good news for the country, South Africans are expected to be hit hard by the imports, with the National Agricultural Marketing council predicting a 25% price hike in the monthly food basket.
Fumba said: “government will not handle the importation of any grain. The market will handle and finance all the imports and costs. We will ensure that the required infrastructure is available to handle the imports.”
With the drought said to have been the worst in over 20 years, commercial farmers have gone to great lengths to adapt their production style to deal with the water shortages. But Grain SA has called for better intervention from the government.
“Government can help to keep good farmers on their land in such a dry year,” it said. “We need guarantees to postpone the instalments of those farmers [who] cannot repay their debt.”