Drought-stricken South Africa under pressure to feed Zimbabwe

SOUTH Africa, which is the continent’s biggest maize producer and is suffering the worst drought in memory, may need to help neighboring Zimbabwe with corn supplies as a drought cuts yields throughout the region, a grains and oilseeds farmers’ body said.

Zimbabwe will probably produce 200 000 metric tonnes, said Grain SA, South Africa’s largest representative of maize farmers, which cited data from South Africa’s Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy.

That would be the smallest crop since at least 1961, data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed. The country needs 1,1 million tons to two million tonnes of corn in 2016-17.

Zimbabwe traditionally relies on South Africa and Zambia for maize, which is used to make a staple food.

The biggest nation in the region last year suffered its lowest rainfall since records began in 1904, with Zambia stepping in to provide supplies to countries in the area, but dry spells have now also curbed agricultural output in Zambia, where the 2016 harvest may drop about 30% to the smallest since 2009.

South Africa may have to import 3,8 million tonnes of maize in the year to April 2017 as the drought cuts this year’s harvest to 7,44 million tonnes, the smallest since 2007.

Grain SA’s import estimate includes about 810 000 tonnes to be supplied to the Southern African Development Community countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland, but doesn’t account for Zimbabwe’s needs because it estimated Zambia would fill the requirement.

“Zambia stocks are down, which lessens its ability to sufficiently supply regional markets,” said Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at Grain SA.

“What all this means is that there will be additional pressure on the South African side.”

The broader region may have to import as much as 10,9 million tonnes of grains such as corn, wheat, and soybeans, according to Senzeni Zokwana, South Africa’s agriculture minister.-Bloomberg

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