White maize short­age looms

Lesotho Times - - Business - Bereng Mpaki

CON­SUMERS must brace for a short­age of white mealie meal in the com­ing months, as food pro­duc­ers bat­tle the ef­fects of drought and ris­ing in­put costs.

Ac­cord­ing to Le­sotho Flour Mills (LFM) Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Ron Mills, a short­age of the com­mod­ity looms af­ter the south­ern Africa re­gion ex­pe­ri­enced its dri­est year on record in 2015 due to El Niño.

El Niño is a pe­ri­odic cli­matic phe­nom­e­non char­ac­terised by in­ad­e­quate rain in some parts of the world and floods in oth­ers. In Le­sotho, El Niño’s com­bi­na­tion of very hot and dry con­di­tions be­tween De­cem­ber 2015 and Jan­uary 2016 dras­ti­cally re­duced agri­cul­tural yields and left thou­sands food in­se­cure.

White maize is made into papa, the main source of calo­ries for many house­holds. At the height of the drought con­di­tions in De­cem­ber, the price of maize shot up from M3 000 to M5 250 per tonne — which is a record spike.

It has since gone down to M4 500 per tonne, but LFM had to ad­just the prices of their mealie meal, flour and an­i­mal feeds by over 10 per­cent in Fe­bru­ary.

Mr Mills said LFM pro­duces an av­er­age of 72 000 tonnes of white mealie meal per an­num, with 2 000 tonnes sourced from lo­cal farm­ers, while the rest em­anates from South Africa.

How­ever, the neigh­bour­ing coun­try is also fac­ing acute short­ages of the com­mod­ity, and has had to im­port white maize from Mex­ico and the United States.

“A real scram­ble for white maize is likely to start around Septem­ber this year and last un­til May 2016. We are in for very tough times,” he said.

“This is be­cause by Septem­ber we would have de­pleted all our maize re­serves, and that will be the time when we start im­port­ing more raw ma­te­ri­als.”

Mr Mills said sub­si­dis­ing the price of maize meal would be a good idea, since the high maize meal prices were likely to pre­vail at least un­til the har­vest of 2017.

“There seems to be a lot of talk in the me­dia about the need to sub­sidise the maize meal price,” he said.

“I think it can be re­ally help­ful this year be­cause this is an un­usual sit­u­a­tion we have never en­coun­tered. No­body who is alive right now has ever seen any­thing like this be­fore, be­cause you have to go as far back as 1904 when they started track­ing weather pat­terns.

“So we are ex­pect­ing the prices of maize to be the same un­til May next year.”

Mr Mills said de­spite the wel­come rains that have been fall­ing since Fe­bru­ary this year, the dam­age was likely to have al­ready been done.

“Es­ti­mates of this year’s har­vest in­di­cate it is go­ing to be a very bad year, although no­body is cer­tain at this point on what the ac­tual har­vest will be. We can only find that out around June and J ul y , ” he said. “But, as it is, we can only hope that next year’s har­vest will im­prove, be­cause tha that is the only way the prices can go down.” The loti’s slump against other ma­jor curc ren­cies also neg­a­tively af­fected the prices of im­ported goods, he added. “The con­stant in­crease in the cost of e every­thing has also con­trib­uted to the rise in prices. A man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany like o ours is greatly af­fected by the prices of raw m ma­te­ri­als, elec­tric­ity, pack­ag­ing, transpo trans­port, labour, re­pairs and main­tena main­te­nance among oth­ers. “Un­for­tu­nately, elec­tric­ity h has been go­ing up for years a and pack­ag­ing costs have also go gone up in the last few years. T This is be­cause they are all t tied to the rand which has be been go­ing on a tail­spin in the last few years. These are vari­ables we have no con­trol over.”

Le­sotho Flour Mills Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Ron Mills.

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