SA may have to im­port maize at high prices if drought per­sists

The Star Late Edition - - BR - LUYOLO MKENTANE [email protected]

SOUTH Africa could be forced to im­port maize at ex­or­bi­tant prices if drought con­tin­ues to rav­age two of the coun­try’s best-pro­duc­ing re­gions.

There are also fears that this could lead to food (price) in­fla­tion and that the coun­try’s eco­nomic growth could be neg­a­tively af­fected as a re­sult.

Maize pro­duc­tion was at a crit­i­cal level in the maize-pro­duc­ing prov­inces of North West and Free State, with vir­tu­ally no crop planted and the op­ti­mum plant­ing date hav­ing passed.

The two re­gions pro­duce about 72 per­cent of the to­tal white maize har­vest in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist Fanie Brink.

How­ever, he said there was no in­di­ca­tion of the num­ber of hectares al­ready planted or that could still be planted.

“This means that maize will have to be im­ported at much higher im­port par­ity prices, which will mainly be de­ter­mined by the changes in in­ter­na­tional maize prices and the ex­change rate,” said Brink.

“As a re­sult, these con­di­tions may have a very neg­a­tive im­pact on the eco­nomic growth rate for the sec­ond and third quar­ters in 2019 com­pared with the same quar­ters last year, as well as the in­fla­tion rate.”

He said the av­er­age crop yield for this sea­son could be lower than three tons per hectare.

Brink said if 2 mil­lion hectares would be planted this sea­son, that would mean a to­tal crop of only 6 mil­lion tons, but if only 1.5 mil­lion ha would be planted, the to­tal crop could be as low as 4.5 mil­lion tons.

“Ac­cord­ing to these sce­nar­ios, the es­ti­mated 3.3 mil­lion tons of maize car­ry­over stocks in the coun­try for the new mar­ket­ing year start­ing May 1, 2019, will not be enough for the coun­try’s to­tal de­mand of be­tween 10 and 11 mil­lion tons and (of) our neigh­bour­ing coun­tries Namibia, Botswana, Swazi­land and Le­sotho.”

AgriSA deputy ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Christo van der Rheede said the lobby group was quite con­cerned about the de­vel­op­ment. “Many of the farm­ers had a ter­ri­ble drought in 2015 and 2016. They are still re­cov­er­ing from that drought. On top of that the maize price de­clined due to an over­sup­ply in the US,” he said.

“Farm­ers strug­gled with a lot of debt, due to the low price of maize. This year they are again faced with drought. We sus­pect many farm­ers will not be able to sus­tain them­selves and we are very con­cerned about that.”

Van der Rheede said AgriSA would call on the gov­ern­ment and the banks to as­sist farm­ers where they can.

“They must not be too harsh on them if they can­not pay their debt, be­cause they use debt as an in­stru­ment to pro­duce food for the coun­try. The gov­ern­ment must per­haps as­sist with a sub­sidy.”

African Farm­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa pres­i­dent Dr Vuyo Mahlati said this was a big is­sue for smallscale and emerg­ing farm­ers.

She said they had de­vised a three­p­ronged ap­proach to ad­dress the is­sue – nudg­ing the gov­ern­ment to act; in­tro­duc­ing the con­cept of crop in­sur­ance and em­brac­ing proac­tive ap­proaches to cli­mate change.

“In the be­gin­ning we were shocked, but now it’s be­come very clear that cli­mate change is a re­al­ity. Small-scale farm­ers and emerg­ing farm­ers are strug­gling al­ready,” said Mahlati.

Absa Agribusi­ness se­nior agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist Wes­sel Lem­mer said if farm­ers could plant about 1.3 mil­lion ha, like they did in the 2015/16 sea­son, and achieve crop yield of 4 tons per ha, the coun­try may have to im­port 2 mil­lion tons of maize.

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