Home » Business » Maize Shortfall Raises Food Security Concerns

Since South Africa does not have a surplus this year, Zimbabwe will have to import from Brazil, Ukraine or Argentina.

SOUTHERN Africa’s maize harvest is expected to shrink by 26 percent compared with last year’s bumper crop, a situation that could trigger food price increases and aersely affect food security in the region.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) last week warned that for 2015, the early production forecast for maize was at 21,1 million tonnes, 15 percent lower than the average for the last five years.

The fall is mostly due to the impact of erratic weather conditions, including the late start of rains in NovemberDecember, followed by heavy rains that caused flooding in some countries, and then a long dry spell in the southern areas of the sub-region during February and early March.

“Last year, the sub-region saw a bumper harvest, which has made this year’s harvest prospects look even weaker so we have to be cautious until governments, often with the support of FAO, have completed all the assessments in the coming days. FAO is closely monitoring the situation on the ground,” said FAO’s sub-regional coordinator for southern Africa, David Phiri.

An expected significant drop (some 33 percent less than in 2014) in the harvest of South Africa — the sub-region’s main producer and exporter — accounts for most of the decline in regional maize production.

Malawi and Zambia, the second and third biggest maize producers in the sub-region, are also expected to register smaller harvests compared with the 2014 bumper crop. Lower maize harvests are also anticipated in Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

The unfavourable rains in Zimbabwe, particularly impacting the low producing regions in the south, resulted in a write off of nearly 300 000 hectares, with preliminarily forecasts for the 2015 harvest at under one million tonnes, about one third down on 2014.

The expected decline in maize production follows a favourable year in 2014, where ample supplies and low prices contributed to improved food security conditions that resulted in a significant decline in the number of people in need of food assistance.

According to FAO, Zimbabwe’s maize imports are forecast to nearly double. In anticipation of a tight domestic supply situation, the government lifted the import ban earlier in the year, which was imposed in 2014.

Malawi may also increase imports to bolster national supplies. Larger import volumes are forecast in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland, which are normally reliant on South African grain.

“Within the sub-region, the outturn in Zambia will be crucial as the surplus held there is estimated at close to one million tonnes, following the record 2014 output. A target of nearly 800 000 tonnes is provisionally indicated for export,” FAO said.

The poor outlook is already having some impact on cereal markets. South Africa recorded significant price increases in February, although the rise eased in March following improved rains.

These price increases are expected to mostly affect those countries that rely more on maize imports such as Namibia, where relatively high price increases were already recorded in February.

Agricultural economist, Peter Gambara, provided statistics indicating that South Africa will be importing at least 600 000 tonnes of yellow maize for the feed industry, while Zimbabwe will import between 800 000 and one million tonnes of maize for its nationals.

“South Africa produces 12 to 14 million tonnes per year and its demand is about 10 million tonnes, leaving them with around two to four million tonnes for export. However this year, they are projected to produce about 9,6 million tonnes, thereby requiring to import some 600 000 tonnes of yellow maize. Zimbabwe is now estimated to produce about 950 000 tonnes and will be short of its requirements by between 800 000 to one million tonnes.

“The only countries with a maize surplus in the region are Zambia and to some extent Malawi. Zambia is expected to produce 2,9 million tonnes this year, down from 3,4 million tonnes last year. However, they are said to have a carryover stock of over million tonnes, which they could export. Malawi is also expected to produce 2,9 million tonnes, down from 3,9 million tonnes last year. They will therefore still have some surplus to export. Mozambique and Angola produce just about enough for their requirements or import negligible amounts. The rest of the Southern African Development Community countries that include Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Namibia and Swaziland are net importers of maize,” Gambara said.

Since South Africa does not have a surplus this year, Zimbabwe will have to import from Brazil, Ukraine or Argentina. These three are the second, third and fourth largest exporters after USA with exports of Brazil (21 million tonnes), Ukraine (18 million tonnes) and Argentina (10 million tonnes).

With the expected decrease in production this year, the number of food insecure people may rise, reversing the g gains recorded last year.

The expected decline in 2015 maize production follows a favourable year in 2014 when ample supplies and low prices improved food security conditions that resulted in a significant decline of people in need of food assistance in the sub-region, with Zimbabwe, for instance, recording a 75 percent decrease.


Source : Financial Gazette